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The List: 7 Awesome Roadside Attractions

Craig Fitzgerald

You’ve packed the kids in the wagon and you’re squeezing those last few weeks out of summer on the road. Yeah, the Twine Ball is so great that Weird Al Yankovic wrote a “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”-esque a song about it (click the video after the jump). Trouble is, once you get there, you got what you paid for: A big ball of string. Here, we present a handful of roadside attractions you might actually be interested in seeing:

President Kennedy’s Bomb Shelter (Peanut Island, Florida)

Kennedey Shelter

The early 1960s were a time when a good number of Americans – including the Commander-in-Chief – were fairly certain that nuclear bombs could rain down on us at any minute. President Kennedy suggested that all Americans begin building their own fallout shelters “as rapidly as possible,” in a speech from 1961.

Following his advice, the Secret Service ordered the construction of what was euphemistically referred to as the “Detachment Hotel,” near the Kennedy compound in Palm Beach and now part of the Palm Beach Maritime Museum. The Navy SeaBees built it to house a decontamination shower, and enough room for up to 30 people for 30 days. It’s been open to the public since 1999 as a chilling reminder of how close were came to nuclear devastation.

The Desert of Maine (Freeport, Maine)

Desert of Maine

Freeport’s where you want to stock up on your fancy LL Bean dog beds and rain slickers, but while you’re there, you should also check out the Desert of Maine. In the late 18th century, farmers in Freeport — it’s hard to believe farmers were up here that early in the country’s history — didn’t know much about soil erosion. They farmed the same patch of land year after year, and eventually, the topsoil simply disappeared. What was left behind was a completely barren 50-acre spot that you’d swear was in the middle of Death Valley if it wasn’t for the black flies and nearby lobster roll shacks.

Muffler Men (Everywhere, USA)


There was a time in this country — long before the advent of the obnoxious LED road sign — that gigantic fiberglass men roamed the United States bearing mufflers. Beginning in 1963, International Fiberglass began making these muffler-toting dudes for the likes of places like Texaco, who called them “Big Friends.”

They were invented by a guy named Steven Dashew, who even holds a patent for a tilting trailer used to haul them to their location, where they’d be tilted forward and bolted to a concrete pad. They’re still all over the country, and RoadsideAmerica.com has a great map showing all their locations, along with a history of Muffler Man variations. See if there’s one nearby.

Bob’s Big Boy (Burbank, California)

Bobs Big Boy

This is pretty much it for car culture, folks. It’s the oldest Bob’s Big Boy in the country, and the one that still features the iconic looks of a 1950s drive-in. Every Friday night there’s a car show, and on Saturdays and Sundays, it features carhop service by chicks on rollerskates. Even if you don’t want to jam a burger in your maw, you have to appreciate the “Googie” style architecture, synonymous with the guy who created it, Wayne McAllister. Even the Beatles were here in 1964.

The Thing (Dragoon, Arizona)

The Thing

The Thing is one of those places you want to visit just to get the bumper sticker. That experience is better than actually seeing the Thing itself. Throw in places like The Mystery Spot in California and South of the Border in Dillon, South Carolina and you’ve hit the Trifecta of goofy, mildly disappointing roadside attractions. The greatest thing about the Thing is convincing your friends to go there after you’ve been so that they can feel just as stupid as you did.

Iowa 80 Truck Stop (Walcott, Iowa)


There are a lot of “World’s Largest” roadside attractions, like the World’s Largest Catsup Bottle in Collinsville, Illinois. The problem is, that ain’t a bottle of ketchup, it’s a 100,000 gallon water tower that just happens to look like a bottle of ketchup. When you visit the World’s Largest Truck Stop, though, it is the world’s largest truck stop. It’s a working thing, and seeing it in action is pretty amazing. It’s a city in miniature, with a barber shop, a dentist, a gigantic truck wash and even a trucking museum.

Salem Willows (Salem, Massachusetts)

Salem Willows

The thing about New England throughout the centuries is that the weather stinks about five months of the year. So proprietors of local businesses that thrive in the summertime generally lock things up tighter than a turtle’s booty once Labor Day rolls around. It’s not so much fun in the winter, but when Memorial Day comes, you really get a sense that SUMMER’S HERE.

Salem Willows is like that. It’s got a carousel, a vintage arcade with real mechanical amusements, a park where you can have a picnic, and the coolest bandstand you ever saw. The photo here came from Mod Betty at RetroRoadmap.com, and she said we could use it as long as we mentioned how insanely good the popcorn is from E.W. Hobbs popcorn stand. Oh, and you can get a chop suey sandwich. Take that, everyplace else.

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Photo Credit: VisitFlorida.com, Weird California, RetroRoadmap.com