9 Quirky Places in the US that I've Been that You Should Visit
9 Quirky Places in the US that I've Been that You Should Visit, Too, plus 1 Quirky Place that I've Seen that You Should Avoid at All Costs
With places like Yosemite National Park and the Atlantic Ocean out there to see, why would anyone want to spend time visiting some off-beat, quirky location? Because quirky locations are far more memorable. Trust me. When people ask me about a trip to a National Park, I usually can just say, "It was very pretty and the hiking was nice." But if I have the chance to talk about a quirky place, I will definitely relate my story with detail and giddiness. Anyone can talk about seeing a waterfall, but that doesn't match the fun of visiting a Jell-o or Tupperware Museum!
The most important aspect of quirky places? Don't put off seeing them. They often lack funding, and can disappear after a manager's death or a building water leak. Get there. Meet the people. Take the pictures. And tell their stories.
1. Hometown of Superman; Metropolis, Illinois
In the comic books, Metropolis is a huge city with many comparisons to New York City. The town of Metropolis, Illinois, is more like Superman's hometown of Smallville, Kansas. It has a few diners, no movie theater, and a museum and some shops dedicated to Superman. The details are pretty fun--from a phone booth, to a newspaper resembling the "Daily Planet," to some headless stand-ups that you can use for photographs--this little town seems to be enjoying it's super name. Most striking, however, is the giant statue of Superman that stands in front of the Metropolis courthouse.
Obvious photo-op: The giant statue of Superman.
2. Wall Drug; Wall, South Dakota
You can't go anywhere in South Dakota without knowing about Wall Drug; over 500 miles on I-90 billboards proclaim this tourist attraction. [In fact, there's even a billboard at the South Pole proclaiming "Free Ice Water, 9,333 miles."] Its big draw has been a staple since the 1930s--free ice water and 5-cent coffee for all visitors. How can free ice water be such a draw in these days of bottled water? Hard to say, but the Wall Drug claims that each summer it gives away 20,000 cups of water a day. The Wall Drug isn't just a drug store, though. It's also a gift shop, western art museum, children's playground, jewelry store, and wedding chapel.
Obvious photo-op: The 80-foot Apatosaurus.
3. The Biggest Pit in the World; Copperton, Utah
Why would anyone want to see a big pit? Well, millions of people visit the Grand Canyon, don't they? This is much the same thing, only not so far out-of-the-way. It's cheaper, too--only 5 tax-deductible dollars.
The Kennecott Copper Mine pit is actually quite impressive. In fact it's so big it can actually be seen from space! Extraction has been going on since the 1860s, and the company is proud that they have turned a mountain into a hole that is almost 1 mile deep. Over 450,000 tons of material is removed daily in the search for gold, silver, copper, and molybdenum. Sometimes blasting is going on, but don't expect an awesome show; the blast will be a speck when viewed across the 2.5-mile-wide pit. Just take in the marvel that is human scavenging.
Obvious photo-op: Next to the gigantic tire from one of $3 million dump trucks.
4. The Future Birthplace of Captain Kirk; Riverside, Iowa
Once Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek, wrote that Captain James T. Kirk was from Iowa. The super-small town of Riverside needed a theme for its yearly festival and the council thought, "Hey, why can't Kirk be from our town?" and wrote Mr. Roddenberry to ask if it could be so. They received an official letter with his permission, and with that, Riverside became "The Future Birthplace of Captain Kirk." A tiny, former beauty salon became the birthplace; a sad wooden plaque saying so is in the backyard. [Apparently they wanted to make a nice statue, but Paramount, which owns Star Trek, wanted $60,000 in licensing. So the wooden sign won't be going anywhere soon.] The city also holds an annual "Trek Fest", celebrating all things Star Trek.
Obvious photo-op: The USS Riverside--a mock-up starship at the front of the town.
5. Snake Alley; Burlington, Iowa
Snake Alley was once recognized by Ripley's Believe It or Not as the "crookedest alley in the world." While Lombard Street in San Francisco has also stated the same, the trip to Snake Alley will be much more pleasant because you will more than likely be the only person there. The street consists of 5 half-curves and 2-quarter curves that rises about 60 feet over a distance of 275 feet. The bricks are all laid at an angle, which aids in footing--and makes a cool noise when you drive over them. The street is also the site of an annual bike race; the bikers race uphill in what I can only perceive is a death wish.
Obvious photo-op: The view from the top.
6. The SPAM Museum; Austin, Minnesota
The city smells like SPAM, thanks to the factory where the tinned meat is made. But don't let that deter you--this place is awesome! Hormel, the makers of SPAM, realize that it is a bit of a joke, and they aren't afraid to poke fun at themselves. This free museum introduces you to the history of SPAM, takes you through past advertising campaigns, offers dozens of interactive displays and games, and, yes, even tells you what SPAM is made of. The gift shop sells all things SPAM--from SPAM mittens to SPAM mouse pads, from SPAM jewelry to many many varieties of packaged SPAM! If you're not craving SPAM by the end of your visit, you must be vegetarian.
Obvious photo-op: With SPAMMY, the SPAM Museum mascot.
7. The World's Largest Twine Ball [by One Man]; Darwin, Minnesota
If you're going to see any quirky landmark, this one is a must-see. A large twine ball is the king of all things quirky. It's so quirky that Weird Al Yankovic even wrote a song about it.
In 1950, some guy wrapped twine in a ball for 4 hours a day for 23 weeks. Then he died. The twine ball is currently housed in a gazebo on Main Street. A museum and gift shop is next door, where you can buy a souvenir miniature ball of twine.
Sure, there are bigger twine balls these days [hence the "by one man" clarifier], but this one was the original. You have to admire and/or wonder about a man who would wrap twine until his death.
Obvious photo-op: The ball of twine.
8. Bible-Themed Miniature Golf; Lexington, Kentucky
The Lexington Ice Center and Miniature Golf features 54 holes of Bible-themed golf goodness. The first 18 holes depict the Old Testament, such as the 7 days of creation [with a super-easy Day 7, because God rested on the seventh day], the Garden of Eden, and Noah's ark. The next 18 holes are from the New Testament, starting with the Star of Bethlehem and finishing with the Last Supper. The last 18 holes are the hardest and are based on Biblical miracles, including Jesus feeding the multitudes, Moses parting the Red Sea, and the burning bush. Don't let the Jesus-factor turn you off; this is the best mini-golf I've ever played and by-far the most memorable.
Obvious photo-op: Mount Sinai, the toughest hole.
9. Ben & Jerry's Flavor Graveyard; Waterbury, Vermont
Yes, Ben & Jerry's has their factory here. You can tour it and get free samples and blah blah blah. But the best part is the Flavor Graveyard located behind the factory. Here, the dearly departed ice cream flavors that met their end are given final remembrance. Each tombstone is decorated with a picture of their lid, along with a sassy poem and the year(s) of the flavor's life. For example, Sugar Plum's stone says, "It swirled in our heads, it danced in our dreams, it proved not to be though the best of ice creams." Take the time to browse the graveyard and snap some photos. Then, if there's time, you can go on the factory tour.
Obvious photo-op: The tombstone of your choice!
And finally, the moment you've all been waiting for...
Stay away from: Roswell, New Mexico
A town that celebrates a UFO landing [the truth of which is left up to you to decide] could be very well be the king in the land of quirky attractions. Alas, Roswell fails miserably. This small town offers very little of interest. If you happen to be passing through keep in mind the town shuts down after 6:00pm. The museums in Roswell are unorganized, overloaded, and over-priced. The gift shops have nothing of particular interest. And it's way-the-hell out-of-the-way. Save your time and money. See the twine ball instead!