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Metaphor: The Tree of Utah Bonneville Salt Flats, UT
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The best roadside attractions in the US

Your guide to the biggest and weirdest roadside attractions in the US – across all 50 states

Scott Snowden
Written by
Shoshi Parks
Contributor
Scott Snowden
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It should come as no surprise that the best roadside attractions in the US are a motley assortment of architectural marvels and ridiculous novelties including those that elevate condiments and vegetables to soaring heights. And if you've ever embarked on a lengthy road trip across the country, you'll know that the best break after a few hours sitting behind the wheel is indulging in a closer inspection of... the world's largest rocking chair (Fanning, Missouri) or the world's biggest Big Mac (North Huntingdon, PA). These are the quirkiest attractions across all 50 states; Make a trip to see the one nearest you, or connect them together for an epic road trip across this bizarre country. 

The best roadside attractions in the US

Amusement park sculptor Claude Bell began building the enormous Cabazon Dinosaurs in 1964 to attract travelers to his restaurant outside Palm Springs. But it wasn’t long before the dinos became a destination in and of themselves. Over the years, the two largest, Dinny, the 150ft-long brontosaurus, and Mr. Rex, the 65ft-tall tyrannosaurus, have become part of pop culture history with roles in movies like 1985’s Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, 1989’s The Wizard and 2020’s Palm Springs. When new owners took over the property in the mid-1990s, the site also became home to a creationist museum that claims that the 'evolutionary origin of life is impossible' and that dinosaurs were created by God 6,000 years ago. It’s unclear whether Bell, who painted images of a 30,000-year-old Cro Magnon and the 400,000-year-old fossil of Java Man inside the belly of Dinny, would have appreciated the irony.

Pegasus & Dragon | Hallandale Beach, FL
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2. Pegasus & Dragon | Hallandale Beach, FL

In a southern Florida beach town, two mythical creatures duke it out in an everlasting battle of good versus evil. But while the 100-foot-tall by 200ft-long Pegasus and Dragon are frozen in steel and bronze—the foot of the horse forever poised to crush the neck of the beast—a Vegas-worthy scene of music, light and water swirls around them. At night, the extravaganza includes fog shooting from 350 separate nozzles and 20ft-long bursts of LED-lit fire from the mouth of the dragon. Opened to the public in 2016, the quarrelsome creatures are considered the country’s third tallest statue.

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Old Woman Meteorite | Barstow, CA
Photograph: Courtesy Desert Discovery Center

3. Old Woman Meteorite | Barstow, CA

The second largest iron meteorite in the US is located in Barstow, California. The 'Old Woman Meteorite' weighed over three tons when it was found in the California desert in 1975. The Smithsonian claimed it, lopped off 15 percent of it for 'scientific study,' then gave the rest back to California in 1980. It's been in Barstow ever since. It weighs 6,070lbs (2,750kg) and is composed mostly of iron, about 6% nickel, plus small amounts of cobalt, phosphorus, chromium, and sulphur. And it's on display at the Desert Discovery Center on Barstow Road.

Before Heinz’s tomato-flavored monopoly spread to American burgers from coast to coast, an Illinois brand briefly held the title of America’s best-selling ketchup. Even before they built the world’s largest ketchup bottle in 1949, Brooks was already a master of advertising, erecting 12ft-tall, rotating, neon-lit ketchup bottles in and around St. Louis, Missouri. But that year, the company upped the ante with a 170ft-tall water tower in ketchup bottle form, a practical solution to supply water to a fire protection sprinkler system in the Brooks factory in Collinsville, Illinois. When the property was sold in 1993, a ketchup coalition rescued the landmark from certain destruction. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2002.

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The Keeper of the Plains, one of Wichita’s most enduring symbols, keeps watch over the city from a rocky ridge outside the Mid-America All-Indian Center, a Native American museum and cultural hub. Created by Kiowa-Comanche artist Blackbear Bosin in 1974, the statue depicts a headdress-wearing Indigenous man lifting a tomahawk towards the sky. At night, the 44ft-tall steel sculpture is illuminated in flickering red and orange by a ring of fire pits at his feet. Around the base of the monument, displays tell the story of the tribal people that once thrived in this region, including at least eight native groups and almost 30 Indigenous communities from the East who were relocated to the area after 1830. Only four tribes—the Iowa, Kickapoo, Potawatomi and Sac and Fox—have been able to hold onto their reservation land in Kansas to the present day.

Jolly Green Giant | Blue Earth, MN
Photograph: Shutterstock

6. Jolly Green Giant | Blue Earth, MN

Sporting 6ft–long booties and a leafy one-shoulder jumpsuit, the Jolly Green Giant stands sentinel over the little town of Blue Earth in southern Minnesota. The extra-large mascot was born in the aftermath of the discovery of a new variety of green peas in 1928 by the Minnesota Valley Canning Company. His current style evolved in 1935 when a copywriter traded the behemoth’s early caveman looks for a more plant-like persona. Almost 30 years after the company re-branded as Green Giant, a radio station owner in Blue Earth who presented visitors with canned veggies on his popular program Welcome Travellers, came up with the idea to build a statue of the jolly one. At 50ft in height, he’s still one of the tallest statues in the US. 

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Our Lady of the Rockies, the fourth tallest statue in the US, watches over the town of Butte, Montana from her Rocky Mountain promontory, a chapel at her feet. Built almost entirely from donated labor, money and materials, the likeness of the Virgin Mary is not without controversy. Although the religious symbol is on private land, she can be seen from almost anywhere in town, even at night when light shines on the 90ft-tall statue, irking those who do not belong to the Christian faith. Despite the squabble, Our Lady continues to stand tall 8,510ft above the Continental Divide as she has for almost 40 years. 

World’s Largest Basket | Newark, OH
Photograph: Shutterstock

8. World’s Largest Basket | Newark, OH

When Dave Longaberger, head of the basket-making Longaberger Company, first came up with the idea to build a basket-shaped corporate headquarters in the 1990s, he envisioned it as one among many basket-woven company buildings around the country. But by his death in 1999, only one, a replica of the company’s medium-sized market basket, had been built. The seven-story-tall, 180,000-square-foot Newark, Ohio building remained in use until 2016. It was sold the following year and plans are afoot to turn this stunning example of novelty architecture into a luxury hotel.

Discover the best things to do in Ohio

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Golden Driller | Tulsa, OK
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9. Golden Driller | Tulsa, OK

At 75ft-tall and 43,500lbs, the Golden Driller weighs in as the country’s sixth tallest statue. Dedicated to the men of the petroleum industry, the giant rests his right arm on a defunct oil derrick that was moved from Seminole, Oklahoma to Tulsa for the International Petroleum Exhibition in 1966. While the Golden Driller has shilled for big oil most of his life, in 2020 he took on another role: Hustling for the city in its bid for the next Tesla factory. That May, the massive landmark was painted with the company’s symbol on his chest and its name on his belt buckle. Elon Musk was apparently unimpressed. Tulsa lost the race to Austin, Texas.

In a small town near Houston stands one of the country’s largest attractions—the San Jacinto Monument. The 567ft-tall obelisk was built in the 1930s to commemorate the pivotal battle that led Texans to victory over Mexico a century before during the Texas Revolution. The world’s tallest masonry memorial (thanks to the 220-ton lone star at its crown), the San Jacinto Monument is also almost 13ft taller than a better-known landmark located 2,000 miles to the northeast, the Washington Monument.

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Tree of Utah | Bonneville Salt Flats, UT
Photograph: Shutterstock

11. Tree of Utah | Bonneville Salt Flats, UT

A hallucination during a drive across Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats led Swedish artist Karl Momen to create one of the most desolate, isolated landmarks in the world in 1986. Metaphor: The Tree of Utah rises up from the vast desert landscape, an 87ft-tall vision in concrete and stone. At its top are six green spheres made from native rock and minerals while, at its base, is a plaque inscribed with quotes from Friedrich Schiller’s 18th century poem Ode to Joy, which Beethoven used in his Ninth Symphony.

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