Get us in your inbox

Seattle gum wall
Photograph: Shutterstock

Semi-famous landmarks in the US to see immediately

Skip the usual museums and check out these bizarre, semi-famous landmarks in the US, from Hawaii's pineapple maze to Boston's Mapparium

Written by
Sarah Medina
&
Rosie Hewitson
Advertising

If you’ve been travelling in the States, it’s likely that you’ve experienced plenty of the most popular tourist attractions in the USA. But what about some of the more offbeat attractions dotted around this vast country? No matter how many road trips and staycations you’ve done, you can’t claim to have explored the whole of America until you cross off at least a couple of these weird roadside attractions and semi-famous landmarks in the US. 

From the Seattle gum wall and Nebraska's Carhenge to Philadelphia’s Mutter Museum and L.A.'s La Brea tar pits, we’ve tracked down 17 of the most unusual tourist spots from coast to coast. Choose a few favorites and create your own road trip, or take a day trip to the roadside attraction nearest to you. Tons of photos are mandatory, of course. No one will believe these bizarre landmarks exist at all until they see the proof. 

RECOMMENDED: The top tourist attractions in the USA

Famous landmarks in the US

The world’s largest plant maze is located on the Dole Pineapple Plantation on the north shore of Oahu. More than two miles of paths wind through the hedges of 14,000 colorful Hawaiian plants such as hibiscus, heliconia and pineapples, of course. The plantation proudly displays the names of the fastest finishers on a sign at the entrance to the labyrinth and the current record stands at seven minutes!

Discover the best things to do in Oahu

  • Attractions
  • Historic buildings and sites

This New England town’s dark past draws urban witches and history buffs from all over the country. Learn about the infamous Witch Trials of 1692 with a visit to the Witch House. This 17th century home was owned by James Corwin, a local merchant who presided over many of the witchcraft examinations. The self-guided tours offer a great primer on both the country’s largest witch hunt and early colonial life.

Discover the best things to do in Massachusetts

Advertising
Christmas ghost town | Santa Claus, AZ
Photograph: Shutterstock

3. Christmas ghost town | Santa Claus, AZ

The middle of the Mojave Desert definitely isn’t the first place you’d look for jolly old Saint Nick—and yet, this abandoned town in Arizona is dedicated to all things Christmas. Realtor Nina Talbot and her husband founded the town in 1937 in an attempt to attract buyers to the desert. Santa Claus did become popular with tourists for a while: Families would drive into town to send letters with a festive postmark from the local post office and dine at the Christmas Tree Inn. Sadly, all the Christmas spirit wasn't enough to convince anyone to move there and the town eventually fell into disrepair. Check out the rundown red-and-white buildings and forlorn tinsel for yourself—it’s not maintained, but free to visit.

Discover the best things to do in Arizona

Whether you believe the tour guide’s schtick about the supposed “gravitational anomaly” at work at this roadside attraction or not, the tilted cabin that seemingly defies the laws of physics is still fun to visit. Even skeptics will have a blast exploring the curious shack where balls appear to roll uphill and chairs seem to sit on walls. Not convinced? See if you can puzzle out the reason behind this optical illusion for bonus points. 

Discover the best things to do in Santa Cruz

Advertising

This small town in Illinois is home to not one, not two, but eight of the world’s largest objects, including a rocking chair, knitting needles, crochet hook, wind chime and golf tee. Resident Jim Bolin installed the first piece, the wind chime, in 2011 and things snowballed from there. Bolin thought a public art installation (titled Big Things in a Small Town) might help bring in some tourists. His theory seems to be working: Though Casey is home to only 2,698 citizens, the town gets up to 500 visitors a day hoping to catch a peek at its supersized attractions.

Discover the best things to do in Illinois 

  • Museums
  • Science and technology
  • Center City West

If you’re the squeamish type, you better avoid the Mutter Museum. It’s jampacked with human specimens, stomach-churning medical objects and more bones than you could imagine. Think you can handle it? Don’t miss the slices of Albert Einstein’s brain, the Hyrtl Skull Collection of 139 human heads, the corset skeleton or the exhibit that allows you to experience the feeling of having your arm amputated. Yikes.

Discover the best things to do in Philadelphia

Advertising

The Madonna Inn on the central California coast is the epitome of kitsch. Built by Alex and Phyllis Madonna in 1958, the hotel supposedly has a Swiss Alps theme, but in reality seems dedicated to all things tacky. All 110 rooms are each decorated following a unique theme—the Caveman has faux rock walls and a waterfall while the Pony room has bright red carpets and prominently features several horse statues. You certainly won’t forget a stay here.

Discover the best things to do in San Luis Obispo

Carhenge is exactly what it sounds like: a replica of Stonehenge made out of cars. Jim Reinders built this piece of public art in 1987 using 39 broken-down vehicles found in local junkyards and farms. Why cars? The dimensions of autos from the '50s and '60s nearly match the stone monoliths at Stonehenge, and Reinders painted the vehicles matte gray to increase the resemblance. Fittingly, the dedication for Carhenge (Reinders built it as a memorial to his father) was held on the summer solstice in 1987.

Advertising
  • Things to do
  • Cultural centers
  • South Beach

Don’t bring the family to this Miami museum devoted to all kinds of X-rated art. Billed as the only institution that exclusively shows fine erotic art in the entire country, the World Erotic Art Museum has a renowned collection of antique sex toys, carved phalluses and nudes by Picasso and Rembrandt. Just thinking about exploring the 12,000-square-foot space is enough to make you blush. 

Discover the best things to do in Miami

  • Attractions
  • Pine Market

Cap off a trip to the famed Pike Place Market with a visit to the equally well-known Gum Wall in a nearby alley. In the 1990s, patrons waiting in line for improv shows at Post Alley’s Market Theater started sticking their used gum on the wall. Nearly 30 years later, it’s covered in every type of gum imaginable. The city powerwashed off all traces of the stinky, sticky mess in 2015, but it didn’t take long for residents and tourists to bring the Gum Wall back to life.

Discover the best things to do in Seattle

Advertising

Just outside of Montgomery on the Alabama River, you’ll find a Tim Burton wonderland on a privately owned island. The production company behind the movie Big Fish built the fictitious town of Spectre here back in the early 2000s and decided to leave it up after filming. For a small fee, visitors to Jackson Lake Island can follow Ewan McGregor’s footsteps through the town square to the rundown church, to remaining mechanical trees from the haunted forest and even hang a pair of shoes off the clothesline. You might even run into the town’s newest residents: a friendly herd of goats.

Discover the best things to do in Alabama

  • Shopping
  • Jewelry
  • Logan Square

The Busy Beaver Button Co. has produced tens of millions of shiny pins and buttons since it opened in 1995. They’ll still gladly make you any design you desire, but shopping isn't the only reason to visit the Chicago store. Art lovers and culture vultures will also want to check out the eponymous museum. Scope out the collection of more than 9,000 historical pin-back buttons, including concert memorabilia and political campaign collateral.

Discover the best things to do in Chicago

Advertising

Deep in the middle of the barren Nevada desert, you’ll find Area 51, the top-secret military base that has been shrouded in mystery for decades. Little is known about what goes on inside, except that the military developed and tested spy planes at the base during the Cold War. The secrecy combined with strange aircrafts leaving Area 51 led to countless rumors of UFO sightings, alien abductions and other extraterrestrial activities over the years. Curious visitors and alien enthusiasts should check out the area for themselves. 

  • Attractions
  • Libraries, archives and foundations
  • Congress Ave District

In the tradition of old-school curio museums, the Museum of the Weird celebrates oddities like shrunken heads, wax movie monsters and a taxidermied two-headed calf. The price of admission also includes a live sideshow act, if you want to get really freaky. It’s only fitting that such a museum would be in Austin—the city’s unofficial slogan is “Keep Austin Weird,” after all.

Discover the best things to do in Austin

Advertising
  • Museums
  • Natural history
  • Miracle Mile

Note: The Page Museum is temporarily closed 

Want to see prehistoric L.A? Look no further than the bubbling petroleum lake under what is now Hancock Park. Paleontologists have been able to recover some 3.5 million bones from the tar pit. Walk the outdoor park to sniff the signature sulphuric smell and see pits that are still being excavated, then head into the Page Museum to check out the incredible collection of items found in the pits.

Discover the best things to do in Los Angeles

  • Attractions
  • Libraries, archives and foundations
  • Fenway/Kenmore

Note: The Mapparium is temporarily closed 

You’ll find another of the world’s largest items inside the Mary Baker Eddy Library in Boston: the world’s largest walk-in globe. The Mapparium is a three-story spherical model of a globe built to scale out of brightly hued stained glass. Stand at one edge of the glass bridge that bisects the interior of the globe and whisper something to a friend at the other end. Since the glass walls amplify sound, they’ll be able to hear you loud and clear.

Discover the best things to do in Boston

Advertising

Note: The exhibit is temporarily closed 

Anyone who can’t get behind minimalist modern art probably won’t get this long-term installation by Walter de Maria. Visitors will find the The New York Earth Room inside a 3,600-square-foot gallery space in Soho. Simply put, it’s nothing but dirt—a 22-inch-deep layer spread across the entire space. It’s somehow comforting to stand inside the quiet room inhaling the smell of earth.

Discover the best things to do in New York 

Ready to plan your next trip?

Recommended
    You may also like
      Advertising