Road trips are a national pastime of America – pairing a network of open highways with a cultural love affair of cars breeds plenty of notable stops along the way. However, while some may prefer places with pomp and circumstance, we say, “where’s the fun in that?” In this road trip rundown, we’re looking at some of the country’s tackiest tourist destinations. Whether you want to see what Jimmy Carter looks like as peanut or wish to learn more about corn, this list is the ultimate in tackiness.
If nothing else, these excellent road trip attractions are excellent conversation starters!
Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum
Location: Gatlinburg, TN
Kicking us off is this modest building in the historic town of Gatlinburg. Known locally as the gateway to the Smokey Mountains, Gatlinburg has plenty to offer for those who love exploring the wilderness and getting back in touch with nature. For us, however, this city has an even better treasure – salt and pepper shakers. According to the proprietors, the Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum is the only one of its kind in the world, so you’re in for a real treat.
This ode to seasoning began over 25 years ago and has since amassed thousands of unique items. Far more than you could shake a salt and pepper shaker at. According to legend, the idea for a museum began with a trip to find a pepper mill. The proprietors, Andrea and Rolf, have turned this into a family business, with their children getting in on the action. With over 20,000 shakers, you can spend hours browsing the rows and admiring each one’s craftsmanship. However, they’re for display only, no matter how flavorless your popcorn or baked potato might be.
The World’s Only Corn Palace
Location: Mitchell, SD
It’s fair to say that the United States has something of a love affair with corn. You can find it in everything, from soda to snacks to the meat in your display case. If you ever find yourself outside Mitchell, South Dakota, you can revel in this staple crop as much as you like. The Corn Palace is like the Taj Mahal of corn – almost literally, as the shape of the building is very “Mahal-esque.” Inside, you’ll discover all kinds of corn murals and learn about the Palace’s storied history. Interestingly, its origin dates back to the late 1800s, and like the Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum, this is the only Corn Palace in the world.
Best of all, if you don’t want to make the trip, you can check out the museum virtually, thanks to its 24/7 “Corn Cam.” Be forewarned – it can get addictive, and you might have trouble pulling yourself away from the computer screen.
The Museum of Bad Art
Location: Somerville, MA
In Somerville, Massachusetts, you can feast your eyes on some of the worst art in the world. You might be asking, “what constitutes bad art?” While art is always subjective and difficult to describe, it’s easy to see why these pieces, in particular, are on display. Some highlights of the Museum of Bad Art tour include:
- A painting made by a cat walking across a canvas
- A portrait of JFK eating ice cream
- A tree with a body of a naked woman and eyes for branches
- Medusa frying a fish
- And many more!
Location: Cabazon, CA
If you’re ever driving toward Palm Springs, California, you’ll notice a couple of dinosaur statues on the side of the highway. A longneck apatosaurus and a T-rex are there to greet you if you wish to stop by the roadside attraction. In addition to getting your pictures with the dinos, you can buy dinosaur-shaped waffles and ice cream, partake on an “authentic” archeological dig, and buy as much merchandise as your trunk can handle. For an even more spectacular shot, climb to the T-Rex’s mouth – don’t worry, he doesn’t bite!
When visiting the Cabazon Dinosaurs, you may notice that they look familiar. This is probably because they were featured in some 80s-era hits, including Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure and The Wizard. However, for our money, they look like they come straight out of the live-action version of The Flintstones. So, how do the dinos feel about being a world-famous attraction? “It’s a living.”
Jimmy Carter Peanut Statue
Location: Plains, GA
In the annals of presidential history, Jimmy Carter was mostly known for two things during his administration: having a beer-loving brother and owning a peanut farm. In his later years, Carter has become an activist, working with Habitat for Humanities. However, if you want to relive the glory days of Carter’s presidency, we invite you to come out to Plains, Georgia – Carter’s home town – to see what the president might look like as a peanut. Interestingly, this statue was first erected in 1976 as Carter was making his way through the country, trying to secure votes. In 2000, a driver smashed into the piece, but it has since been restored. Definitely worth a photo-op if you’re in the area.
South of the Border
Location: Dillon, SC
With a title like South of the Border, you might assume that this place resides just across from our Mexican neighbors to the south. However, the name actually refers to the border of North and South Carolina. Back in the mid-1950s, developer Alan Schafer wanted to take advantage that North Carolina had dry counties. He rightly assumed that residents would want a quick and easy way to score some hooch and then head back home.
Since then, South of the Border has expanded to become much more than a roadside liquor store. It boasts a 2000-foot-tall observation deck (lovingly called Sombrero Tower), a reptile lagoon, and Pedroland Park. For better or worse, the complex still maintains its 50s vibe, thanks to Pedro’s signature sign and its Mexican-flair decor. While you’re here, you can eat at the SotB restaurant or get soft serve from Pedro’s Ice Cream.
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Bowlin’s The Thing
Location: Dragoon, AZ
Our final stop is not one that can be explained very easily. While you’re driving along the I-10 highway in Arizona, signs will entice you to check out “The Thing.” What is it? What does it do? Why is it in the middle of the desert? These are questions that can only be answered by pulling over and visiting this roadside oddity. The proprietors bill The Thing as “The Mystery of the Desert,” and it only costs about a dollar to see it for yourself. While we wouldn’t recommend making a road trip solely to see The Thing, it’s worth a half-hour of your time if you’re already headed in that direction. Don’t worry – we won’t spoil the surprise. (Hint: It’s extra-terrestrial)