The best oversized things to road trip to
Since the dawn of the automobile, Americans have schemed to attract drivers out of their cars and into their businesses. A primary strategy has been to create strange and alluring objects, preferably something you can see from some distance away. Yes, the American countryside is well-known for the many off-the-wall roadside attractions that have entertained road trippers for over a century. Many are now lost to time, mere memories from the heyday of Route 66 from whence they came.
America’s roadside attractions cover a broad range of styles, from the artistic to the garish to the genuinely fascinating. But perhaps the most charming (and most common) genre of roadside attraction is the giant object. The country is littered with colossal animals and food items, often made into hollowed-out buildings. A subgroup of these oversized attractions were built specifically to claim the record of “World’s Largest ___”, to make the jumbo construct all the more noticeable.
These living time capsules offer quirky history lessons, preserving stories of the zany and enterprising folks who saw fit to create them. Their willful tackiness has its own kind of nostalgic beauty. The surviving roadside attractions stand patiently by their country or desert highways, beckoning silently for curious drivers to stop for a while, and maybe spend a few bucks.
Here are 12 of our favorite giant roadside attractions.
1. Golden Driller — Tulsa, OK
This towering golden sentinel was first temporarily erected for a 1953 trade show, at a time when Tulsa billed itself as the “Oil Capital of the World.” It was such a hit with the oilmen it was built to honor that it was remade a couple times, adopted by the city of Tulsa, and reinforced to withstand Oklahoma’s 200mph tornadoes. Now in his final form, the 76-foot Golden Driller is the fifth-tallest statue in the US.
2. Cabazon dinosaurs — Cabazon, CA
Together, Dinny the Dinosaur and Mr. Rex form one of California’s most famous roadside attractions. The creator, a theme park artist and sculptor, started construction on the steel and concrete dinos in 1964 to lure drivers to his cafe alongside Interstate 10. Dinny the 150-foot Brontosaurus took 11 years to create and weighs over 150 tons, and for a time housed a creationist museum in his belly.
3. Gorilla holding a VW — Leicester, VT
It’s in the name. Like many other statues on this list, this oversized concrete gorilla was erected to attract customers off the highway, on a Vermont car dealership’s lawn in 1987. The left hand hoists a real VW Beetle 19 feet in the air, and the right hand is cupped below its waist, so people can sit in it — both ideas from the artist T.J. Neil.
4. Dog Bark Park Inn — Cottonwood, ID
At 30 feet tall, Sweet Willy is the world’s largest Beagle. He’s also a bed and breakfast. That’s right — you can stay the night inside this giant canine and enjoy dog-themed interior decorations. His smaller friend is named Toby, and together they’ve become one of Idaho’s most recognizable landmarks since they opened in 2003.
5. Spud Drive-in giant potato — Driggs, Idaho
Spud Drive-in theater first opened alongside Idaho’s Highway 33 in 1953, and has been in operation ever since. In the late ‘80s, the owners had the idea of placing a boulder by the entrance and painting it like a potato, because Idaho (the owners were also potato farmers). Since they couldn’t find the right rock, they bought an old flatbed truck and built the potato out of chicken wire and plaster.
6. Largest ball of twine — Cawker City, KS
In 1953, a Kansas farmer got tired of disposing of his leftover twine the normal way — sweeping it up and burning it. So he started rolling it into a ball, which reached seven feet in height just three years later. Guinness World Records certified it as the largest ball of twine in 1973, and the farmer died the next year, proud of his accomplishment.
Then in 1978, a different ball of twine in Minnesota took the crown away. By the ‘80s, Cawker City was holding an annual Twine Ball Days festival to add to the ball, and years later travelers and twine enthusiasts were visiting and adding to it year round. Today, it is once again the World’s Largest Ball of Twine at 13 tons with an estimated 1,600 miles of twine.
7. World’s Largest Thermometer — Baker, CA
On July 10, 1934, a temperature of 134°F was recorded in California’s Death Valley, officially the highest temperature ever recorded on Earth to this day. To commemorate that world record, a businessman commissioned a giant thermometer to be built in nearby Baker that would stand 134 feet tall — the World’s Tallest Thermometer. The thermometer is also a sign that displays the blistering temperatures of the California desert.
8. Carhenge — Alliance, NE
America has a strange obsession with shoddy re-creations of Stonehenge, usually with vehicles stuck in the ground. Not to be confused with Autohenge, Truckhenge, Boathenge, Stonefridge, or any of the dozens of knockoff Stonehenges around North America, Carhenge makes this list because it’s the best-known representative of one of the largest subgenres of roadside attraction. But to visit you’ll probably have to make a determined effort to get there — Carhenge is located deep in Western Nebraska, over 80 miles from the nearest Interstate.
9. Casey, IL
In the world of the world’s largest things, one small town can boast the most. Casey, Illinois is home to the world’s largest collection of the world’s largest objects. The town has been amassing giant things for years, including the largest wind chime, rocking chair, teeter totter, and mailbox. It has made the town a destination and tour buses regularly bring curious crowds to crane their necks up at the record-holding displays.
10. Big Idaho Potato Hotel — Boise, ID
Yes, another potato. Yes, in Idaho. This 28-foot tuber was commissioned by Idaho’s Potato Commission (of course) to celebrate their 75th anniversary, and embarked on a seven-year tour of the lower 48 aboard a semi truck. Finished with traveling, the spud now resides back home on a farm in Idaho where you can book a stay inside the hollowed-out spud on Airbnb!
11. Big Ole — Alexandria, MN
Big Ole is America’s biggest viking. He was built in 1965 as an attraction during the World’s Fair, and his shield reads “Alexandria, Birthplace of America.” In 1898, a rune-covered stone was discovered nearby, convincing many residents that the landlocked Midwestern town had been visited by Nordic explorers in the 1300s. Though the stone was proven fake, the legend stuck and there Big Ole stands today.
12. Lucy the Elephant — Margate City, NJ
There are near infinite roadside attractions in the US, but this is the first one. Lucy the six-story elephant was built in 1881, and throughout her life has been converted into various restaurants, taverns, and summer homes. She has weathered lightning strikes, Hurricane Sandy, and vandalism, and is now a National Historic Landmark. All hail the original giant curiosity.