When driving across the country, roadside attractions are a great opportunity to see something fun and unique.
Driving on the great roadways of America can mean a lot of sitting and staring out windows. Sometimes, the scenery can be interesting—mountains, forests, hills, or cityscapes—but much of the time the driver and passengers get bored, staring at sprawling farmland. When the opportunity presents itself to stop, get out of the car, stretch, and experience something unusual, you should consider taking advantage and visit a roadside attraction.
How to stop at a roadside attraction
It sounds so simple—you see a roadside attraction, you stop at it! Unfortunately, so much more goes into it than that. For starters, will you see it soon enough to stop in time? If there are no signs advertising the attraction, will you have ever known it was there? What if you’re the passenger who sees the attraction, but the driver refuses to pull over?
- Plan in advance. If you are going to take a road trip across the country, check out websites like RoadTrippers.com or Roadside America before leaving. Find a ton of interesting attractions so that there’s always one nearby whenever you feel the need to stop.
- Establish what constitutes a roadside attraction, in your mind. Statues, obscure museums, historical markers, kitschy shops, and odd rock formations are often at the top of any traveler’s list. If you open the door to include things like restaurants, stores, and guided tours, you could be stopping every few miles!
- As the driver of the car, you have the ultimate say in whether or not to stop when you see an attraction. If you’re making great time, are full of energy, or have a strict schedule, stopping at a dinosaur statue may do more harm than good. However, if your car is fully of whiny children who are in dire need of a chance to stretch their legs, stopping is in your best interest.
- As a passenger, you must convince the driver you need to stop at the attraction. Screaming “Daddy, it’s the world’s third biggest mosquito fossil! Stop! Stop!” may not move the needle. Plan how you will entice the driver to stop. Certainly bathroom breaks and faking car sickness are at the top of the list.
- When an attraction comes up, think about how you’ll stop. Make sure you get into the appropriate lane in advance, if applicable, and slow down to make a safe turn. Slamming on your breaks, barreling through a median, going airborne, and crash landing just to see an abandoned mini golf course would be very bad for everyone.
- Consider that roadside attractions’ main goal is to make money in one fashion or another. There are plenty of free attractions, but many of them still try to lure travelers into a shop to buy a coffee, a bag of licorice, or a cheaply-made souvenir of some kind. Examples include magnets, postcards, snow globes, and keychains displaying the name or picture of the attraction. $7.95 for a keychain with your name and a picture of a giant concrete pineapple is a bad souvenir choice. Maybe just snap a photo with the giant pineapple and move on.
- Attractions with lots of billboards for hundreds of miles tend to be a disappointment. Stopping for 45 minutes to join busloads of sweaty tourists trudging through turnstiles to see a film on native settlers in a region? Please.
- Ask yourself what you hope to gain from stopping at an attraction. Do you simply want to get a picture? Are you interested in the subject matter? Are you simply hoping to entertain a road-weary child for a few minutes? Has your foot fallen asleep and you need to regain feeling? If you have more than a few seconds to contemplate, you might be able to make a more informed decision.
Roadside attractions, in summary
The bottom line is roadside attractions are great for breaking up a long trip, but remember the primary goal of many such attractions is in fact to lure you into making a purchase. Nevertheless, stopping off to view these silly exhibits and statues is sometimes the most fun part of the trip! If you’re simply on vacation with no strict timeline and itinerary, stop off to your heart’s content. Take plenty of pictures and really use the opportunity to stretch, refuel, hydrate, and poop.
My Hot Take
For the first time in five years, we are planning to hit the open roads and do a real road trip! I am so excited. I love planning road trips. The strange thing is, I am just excited to drive my van. Living in a metro area of over 1 million people, I rarely just get to drive at a steady rate of speed for an extended period of time.
We’ll also be taking a route I’ve never traveled before that will take us through the Texas panhandle, northeastern Oklahoma, eastern Colorado, and southeastern Wyoming on the way there, and through southwest South Dakota and the hellish trek of central Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas on the way home. That is the reason I’m looking at roadside attractions right now—anything along that route that will make the return journey more bearable.