In general, “tourist attractions” get a bad rap in the oh-so-prestigious travel world.
Bizarre tourist attractions, roadside or otherwise, are usually deemed as “silly” or “hokey.” But, hang on a second–who says that’s a bad thing? “Hokey” doesn’t need to be bad, it can be something else: fun.
A lot of people go to these places. Maybe, just maybe, they’re actually a good time. Let’s drop the affectation and the attitude for a minute, take off our top hats, and pretend like we’re 11 years old. Lighten up. We all need a little good, clean silly fun in our lives once and awhile.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
WHERE: Orlando, Florida
Let’s be clear: The Wizarding World of Orlando. The Harry Potter World in Hollywood, California is also great. But the Florida one’s got that big bank–the one with the gigantic dragon perching on it. The bank itself is actually a roller coaster, but right outside is a money exchange (i.e. a glorified ATM) that converts your cash to Gringotts Bank Notes. It’s surpisingly fun and not a waste of time or a tool of capitalism.
But wait, there’s more! There’s Hogsmeade (where you can buy stuff), Diagon Alley (where you can buy more stuff), Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey (an actually fun ride inside of Hogwarts Castle), and the Hogwart’s Express (read: train).
Las Vegas: The Whole City
WHERE: Las Vegas, Nevada
It should be admitted: Las Vegas is still a good time. Given it’s slightly less fun when you’re a little older and the thrill of gambling and walking around with an open beer is no longer absolutely novel–but it’s still fun. There exactly two are ways to do it right.
Number 1: Stay at one of the fancy hotels and hole yourself up in it 24/7. Seriously. Don’t leave. Hang out by a fancy pool, go to the hotel’s spa, sit on your balcony. Order room service. Order anything (it’s Vegas). Treat. Your. Self. Get clean and comfortable (or down and dirty) and stare at the Strip (or your ever-dwindling bank account).
Number 2: Hit up the older Strip casinos for a good ole hokey (we’re talkin’ New York New York, Excalibur, Circus Circus), and when those get old, call a Lyft and make your way to downtown and hang out in the dive bars and casinos of Fremont Street. It’s a more run-down, way more compact version of the actual strip with a ton of character.
Recommended Fodor’s Video
Nicolas Cage’s Tombs
WHERE: New Orleans, Louisiana
Nic Cage is fascinating. Frankly, every Nicholas Cage movie is essentially a hokey tourist attraction in film form. So, why not pay a visit to the burial plot he picked out for himself that just so happens to be a 10-foot tall pyramid, à la National Treasure. That’s right, Nicolas Cage loved his own movie franchise so much he picked a grave-site for himself seemingly based on it.
Frankly, a (respectful) visit to any cemetery is an interesting venture, spiritually or otherwise, but this one is special because it’s in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 in New Orleans. Wander among the tombs and mausoleums, the crumbling statues, and gorgeous history, all why contemplating a way to steal the Declaration of Independence.
The Large Penguin Statue That Occasionally Talks
WHERE: Cut Bank, Montana
Cut Bank, Montana claims to the coldest spot in the nation (which is debatable, because Alaska), and to honor this “fact” they’ve erected a 27-foot tall penguin wearing a little hat, constructed of 10,000 pounds of concrete on top of a metal frame. The penguin honestly looks like it was built a thousand years ago, but it’s actually only been around since 1989. He’s very cute and you can climb onto his feet and give him a hug (if that’s something you want to do).
Not fun enough? Well, the penguin also talks. Occasionally. Though, sometimes it’s broken. Perhaps, however, this adds to its allure, giving it a whole “will-he-won’t-he?” vibe. You just don’t know, and you have to be OK living with that uncertainty. But, if you’re in town, it’s worth the risk.
The World’s Only Corn Palace
WHERE: Mitchell, South Dakota
Though it doesn’t sound like it would be, the Corn Palace is incredible. It is literally a building made from corn–or, at least its exterior. There’s an annual festival (with carnival rides and vendors), corn murals (decorated with 13 different shades of corn), and, naturally, a lot of corn. And if you don’t want to pay an IRL visit, guess what–you don’t have to. That’s what the Corn Cam is for.
But, frankly, the Corn Cam doesn’t do it justice, because you’re literally just looking at a corn building from your computer. Instead, step right up, walk inside. It’s silly, yes, but it’s actually surprisingly fun to hang out in such a strange building.
INSIDER TIPThe big Corn Palace Festival is slated for the end of August, and it’s THE time to visit.
Book a Hotel
International Cryptozoology Museum
WHERE: Portland, Maine
The museum is full of “yet to be found” animals, such as Bigfoot(s), Yetis, sea monsters, other water monsters, as well as animals that have been discovered like “megamouth sharks” and mountain gorillas. It’s an “educational” establishment, but also knows what’s up–they are very clear in the message of cryptozoology being a “gateway science.”
It’s a super fun and that gets your imagination going by tossing a bunch of weirdness at you from all directions at all times. But, ultimately, it aims to make you curious about the world and open your mind up to the fact that, who knows, maybe these things exist. And, hey, even if you’re a staunch nonbeliever, it will at least make you nostalgic for a time when you maybe once thought something so outrageous could exist.
Dole Plantations Pineapple Garden Maze
WHERE: Wahiawa, Hawaii
This maze, brought to you by the famous fruit and vegetable conglomerate, Dole, is three acres with two-and-a-half miles of pathway where you’ll wander, presumably forever, in the midst of beautiful Hawaiian plants. The maze even has its own app that you can download, which is something that probably zero other mazes have.
The rest of the plantation is pretty, too. You’re already in Hawaii, after all, so it’s no surprise that you’re surrounded by lush greenery and island flora–plus you’re at a place that boasts themselves (rightfully) as Hawaii’s “complete pineapple experience.” And don’t forget, you will almost certainly never going to find a better tasting pineapple anywhere else on earth.
INSIDER TIPAfter getting lost in the maze and exploring the grounds, you can stop by the restaurant on site for a famously delicious Dole Whip (dairy-free soft serve).
WHERE: Wall, South Dakota
If a drugstore ate a mall and then spit out a gift shop, it would be Wall Drug. This is a known roadside tourist trap, sure, but even so, it’s the absolute best of the roadside tourist traps. It’s a gigantic, touristy shopping complex. There are also several dining options, including Wall Drug’s Western Art Gallery restaurant, which seats over 500 people and serves everything from sandwiches to steaks to “famous” homemade donuts. Plus, the restaurant is filled with more than 300 original oil paintings of Western Art (hence, the name). If you’ve saved room for even more dessert after stuffing your face with donuts, there’s also an ice cream parlor.
But wait, there’s more! There’s a whole backyard area, where you can take photos in front of a T-rex and a miniature Mount Rushmore, or “mine for gold” and “dig for fossils” (okay, the backyard area is mostly for kids). There’s also a train that you can hop aboard. Bottom line, this place is an experience–a hokey, touristy, absolutely splendid experience.
Wild Bills Nostalgia Center
WHERE: Middletown, Connecticut
Like Wall Drug, Wild Bills Nostalgia is also a store. And, like Wall Drug, it’s not just a store. First of all the exterior is nuts–the place looks like an actual funhouse. Wild Bills also has a menagerie of madness. There are partially buried 20-foot boats everywhere, all of which are made to look like a shipwreck. They have what they claim to be the “World’s Largest Jack-in-the-Box,” a 600-lb clown head on top of a 50-foot grain silo. To be honest, stay away if you have coulrophobia, there are statues of clowns everywhere. It looks like an old, abandoned carnival that may or may not be the site of a real-life horror movie–in the best possible way.
The whole property takes up 45 acres, and the store itself contains a wide array of antiques and oddities for sale that any collector or fan of weirdness would certainly be into, including whale bones and taxidermy, but also including things that aren’t dead animals, like flags, statues, and records.
This Big Smiling Blue Whale That You Can Walk Inside
WHERE: Catoosa, Oklahoma
This whale was constructed by a zoo director named Hugh Davis in the 1970s as an anniversary gift for his wife. It used to be a little swimming hole, and part of a larger nature attraction–it’s closed now, and the whale is pretty beat up, but you can still visit it and walk the inside of the whale on summer weekends. They sell vintage postcards out of the whale’s mouth. It’s pretty simple, but if ever you’ve been like, “I’d like to walk inside of a whale that a man built for his wife,” this is a place that you can fulfill that specific desire.
The World’s Largest Collection of the Smallest Versions of the Largest Things
WHERE: Lucas, Kansas
Skip all of the actual roadside attractions and visit the museum with the small versions of all of the largest things. It’s a much easier way of seeing them all–just in tinier packages and all in one place.
Once store owner Erika Nelson hears of a new “Largest Thing” roadside attraction, she visits it, photographs it, creates a small replica of it, and displays it in her museum (a roadside attraction itself). Every replica is constructed of something different–for example, the world’s smallest version of the world’s largest rubber band ball is made out of tiny rubber bands from a dentist’s office.