Odd landmarks and attractions can be found all across the United States. Some were originally intended to drum up business, and others reflect the particular interests of their designers. Over time, these curiosities have been embraced as humorous expressions of American eccentricity and individualism. Take a brief tour of 12 quirky U.S. destinations that celebrate the offbeat, the unconventional and the downright bizarre.
The Fremont Troll, standing 5.5 meters high, lurks under the north end of the Aurora Bridge in Seattle. The troll clutches a real Volkswagen Beetle car in his left hand, as if he had just swiped it from the roadway above.
Cadillac Ranch — in Amarillo, Texas — is an art installation that pays tribute to America’s most famous luxury car. Vintage Cadillacs, dating from 1949 to 1963, are lined up in a row with their noses buried in the ground and their tail fins pointing upward. The cars face west at the same angle as the Cheops Pyramid of Egypt. Visitors are encouraged to decorate the Caddies with spray paint.
Carhenge — located north of Alliance, Nebraska — is a replica of England’s Stonehenge, with 38 vintage American cars arranged in a circle in place of the large stones that define the English monument. The cars are spray-painted a uniform gray to evoke the color of natural stone. Other car “sculptures” also inhabit the site, which is officially known as the Car Art Reserve.
Gatorland, a theme park and nature conservancy in Orlando, Florida, calls itself the “Alligator Capital of the World.” Its entrance resembles the gaping jaws of an alligator. Sitting on 45 hectares of land, Gatorland draws about 400,000 visitors annually. Despite its humble origins as a roadside attraction, Gatorland has become a respected education center where visitors can observe thousands of alligators and crocodiles and enjoy reptilian shows, an aviary, a petting zoo, educational programs and more.
The Longhorn Grill — a restaurant in Amado, Arizona — has a concrete stucco exterior modeled after a longhorn cow skull. Built in the 1970s, it has been used as a location for several movies, including Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, and is popular with locals and tourists alike. At night, the cow’s eye sockets glow an eerie red, recalling the phantom cattle in the old cowboy song “Ghost Riders in the Sky.”
The Twistee Treat chain of fast-food restaurants, whose stores look like giant soft-serve ice-cream cones, offers a classic example of food-themed architecture that complements the menu. Serving frozen desserts and other fare, Twistee Treat branches can be found in Florida and Missouri.
Lucy the Elephant, the oldest example of zoomorphic architecture in the United States, was built in 1881 by a real-estate mogul to attract property buyers and tourists to the beach community of Margate City, New Jersey. Now recognized as a National Historic Landmark, the iconic Lucy has served as a restaurant, business office, cottage and tavern.
Roswell, New Mexico, is home to the International UFO Museum and Research Center. A major tourist attraction, the museum focuses on reported sightings of unidentified flying objects and space aliens. Roswell was the site of a famous incident in 1947, when an object that looked like a flying saucer crashed to Earth. The local Air Force base explained that it was a research balloon, but many UFO proponents insist that the story is a cover-up.
The Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota, is a multipurpose arena that showcases South Dakota’s agriculture industry. Moorish domes and minarets give the building a distinctive silhouette, and every year, artists decorate the Corn Palace with exterior murals made of corn and other grains. Because birds and squirrels eat the murals each winter, the palace is said to be the world’s largest bird feeder. It attracts 500,000 visitors a year.
The World’s Largest Buffalo is a concrete behemoth that stands guard over a real bison herd in Jamestown, North Dakota. It marks the site of the National Buffalo Museum, which fosters awareness of the cultural and historical significance of the North American bison and the Great Plains. This gargantuan buffalo weighs in at 54 metric tons and stands 7.9 meters tall.
The Haines Shoe House, built in 1948, was conceived as an outlandish advertising gimmick by “Colonel” Mahlon N. Haines, who owned shoe stores in Maryland and Pennsylvania. Located in Hellam, Pennsylvania, the Shoe House initially served as guest quarters for couples who were invited to visit. It has three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen and living room. Now a museum dedicated to its eccentric founder, the Shoe House also contains an ice cream parlor and gift shop.
Giant statues of the mythical lumberjack Paul Bunyan and his companion, Babe the Blue Ox, can be seen in different parts of the United States. These two figures are in Bemidji, Minnesota. Babe’s eyes, made of automobile tail lights, are connected to a battery, and a smoking pipe built into his nostrils gives the impression the ox is breathing in the cold air.