The one thing that’ll make road-trippers gladly hit the brakes is an offbeat, one-of-a-kind, eye-catching roadside attraction. Some are destination-worthy, others best experienced if they happen to be on the way to or a short detour from your destination. Here are eight unordinary spots to check out during your spring travels, including a few suggestions from Kelly Kazek, author of “A Guide to the South’s Quirkiest Roadside Attractions.”
The Georgia Guidestones
Georgia’s own version of Stonehenge, the Guidestones, were erected north of Elberton in 1980 and their provenance is almost as mysterious as England’s famous stone monument.
“It’s a fascinating site, especially because no one knows who ordered it,” said Kazek. The order for the Guidestones was placed in 1979 by a mysterious stranger claiming to represent a group that wished to remain anonymous. The resulting monument features four granite monoliths, a center stone and a capstone, standing nearly 20 feet high and weighing almost 120 tons. It was placed at a high spot in a field eight miles north of town containing a message for humanity written in eight languages.
Predictably, controversy and conspiracy theories followed its installation. This remote monument is worth a visit to gaze at the mammoth stonework and ponder the message, but it shouldn’t take up more than a half-hour of your time. Head to nearby Richard B. Russell State Park on Lake Hartwell to spend the night in a cabin on an uncrowded portion of the lake. The state park also contains one of the more scenic public waterside golf courses in Georgia, Arrowhead Pointe Golf Course (706-283-6000, gastateparks.org/ArrowheadPointe).
Georgia Guidestones. Free. 1031 Guidestones Road, Elberton. elbertchamber.com/visit/play-here/historic-sites.
In the tiny town of Cherry Log between Ellijay and Blue Ridge, Expedition: Bigfoot! is a 4,000-square-foot roadside museum devoted to all things Sasquatch. Kazek, who describes herself as the long-suffering wife of a Bigfoot enthusiast, said it’s a fun stop whether you’re a believer or not.
“Seeing alleged Bigfoot (scat) is a pretty big deal, right? And that area of Georgia is just beautiful.”
Other items visitors can see include giant footprint casts, artifacts from various research expeditions, historical displays, video clips of purported sightings, life-sized re-creations of the creature and hear audio recordings of what the Bigfoot reportedly sounds like.
The exhibits provide an earnest take on the subject matter, but the owners, realizing that not everyone takes Bigfoot seriously, offer up the silly side of the pop-culture phenomenon, too. And there are lots of amusing souvenirs for sale in the gift shop.
Nearby Ellijay has been called the mountain biking capital of Georgia; Cartecay Bike Shop (706-635-2453, www.cartecaybikes.com) will set you up with everything needed for a woodsy single-track excursion, whether you’re searching for Sasquatch or not.
Expedition: Bigfoot! $8. 1934 Georgia Hwy. 515, Cherry Log. 706-946-2601, www.expeditionbigfoot.com.
Crystal Shrine Grotto
The Crystal Shrine Grotto inside Memorial Park Cemetery in Memphis is a delicately handcrafted grotto in a meditation garden created by Mexican artist Dionicio Rodriguez, who began working on it in 1935.
Like a real cave, the grotto has stalactites and stalagmites, but every surface is covered in rock quartz crystal. Colorfully lit dioramas and carvings inside depict the life of Christ from the Nativity to the Resurrection.
The garden outside, also designed by Rodriguez, looks like it could serve as a set piece for “The Hobbit.” According to the cemetery’s website, the grotto attracts more than 100,000 visitors each year.
Stay at The Peabody Hotel (901-529-4000, www.peabodymemphis.com) downtown to witness one of Memphis’ more time-honored offbeat events, the daily march of the Peabody Ducks through the lobby to splash in the hotel’s fountain. The ducks are ceremoniously led by the Duckmaster from their quarters on the roof, down the elevator and across a red carpet to the fountain.
Crystal Shrine Grotto. Free. 5668 Poplar Ave., Memphis. 901-302-9980, www.memorialparkfuneralandcemetery.com
American Museum of the House Cat
On the northbound side of U.S. 441 just south of the mountain towns of Dillsboro and Sylva in North Carolina, there’s an astonishing array of art and artifacts devoted entirely to the house cat.
The collection at the American Museum of the House Cat was amassed over the last four decades by museum founder Harold “Catman” Sims, a retired biology professor who also operates a nearby no-kill, cage-free cat shelter and adoption center.
The museum opened in 2017 in a Dillsboro antique mall and moved to its current stand-alone location in 2020. Inside you’ll find seemingly any object that has ever featured a cat on it, including advertising displays, fine art, folk art, pinball machines and 5,000-plus more items. There’s even a medieval-era petrified cat on display. Sims has called house cats “little works of art,” and his museum is filled with artwork that backs up the claim.
Due to COVID-19 and limited staffing, the museum is temporarily closed to drop-in public tours, but curated tours are available by calling ahead to schedule a time.
The American Museum of the House Cat. $7.50. 5063 U.S. 441 S., Sylva, North Carolina. 828-476-9376, www.wnccatmuseum.org
Blue Whale of Catoosa
On historic Route 66 outside of Tulsa, Oklahoma, in the city of Catoosa, passersby can easily spot a landmark American roadside attraction — the Blue Whale of Catoosa. It’s a cartoonish-looking replica of a whale sporting a baseball cap on a pond next to the highway. The 20-foot-high, 80-foot-long whale made of cement serves as a pier with adjacent picnic grounds and a seasonal gift shop.
It was built by Hugh S. Davis in the early 1970s as an anniversary gift for his wife and a place for their grandchildren to play at the local swimming hole. It quickly grew in popularity. Swimming is no longer allowed. Last fall the whale received a fresh coat of baby blue paint from the city, which purchased the property in 2020 and has plans to make it a more extensive park with a nature trail and dedicated fishing pier.
Another Route 66 icon nearby is Ed Galloway’s Totem Pole Park (918-283-8035, www.travelok.com) in Foyil with a centerpiece 90-foot totem pole built between 1937 and 1948 as a monument to the American Indian.
The Blue Whale of Catoosa. Free. 2600 U.S. Route 66, Catoosa, Oklahoma. 918-266-2505, www.facebook.com/blue.whale.144
Fake town of Spectre
In the middle of a small oxbow lake along the Alabama River in Millbrook, Alabama, Jackson Lake Island is famous for being home to the abandoned film set for the 2003 Tim Burton movie “Big Fish.” Stand-in for the fictional small town of Spectre, the site is “one place people really should see in Alabama,” said Kazek, who got married there.
“The owner of the island saved many of the buildings — which are just shells — and it’s a popular spot for photographers,” she said. It’s a quiet, peaceful place, but walking through a fake abandoned town with foam-covered tree (props) is a bit surreal. Some people come to throw their laced-together shoes on the wire between the two poles marking the entrance to the town, just like in the movie.
A herd of free-roaming goats now call Spectre home and are a big hit with visitors. Fishing and paddling on the lake are popular daytime activities. You can stay overnight in waterfront camping areas. Fans of “Big Fish” will find more filming locations in the nearby real town of Wetumpka, which stood in for the town of Ashton in the film.
Jackson Lake Island. $5. $15 to camp. Cypress Lane, Millbrook, Alabama. 334-430-7963, www.facebook.com/JacksonLakeIsland
Cup House of Collettsville
Also called the House of Mugs, the Cup House outside of Collettsville, North Carolina, is covered with coffee mugs. “It’s actually two, side-by-side houses in a rural part of the state,” said Kazek. “The homes are completely covered in coffee mugs that have been hung from nails on the exterior. It is so crazy, which is, of course, why I love it.”
It’s a bit out of the way but worth a stop if you’re in the area. It helps that the drive to the site is a scenic one. The owners welcome visitors to hang their own mugs if they can find a spot. Even the fence railings and gates are lined with mugs.
Kazek didn’t have GPS service in the area when she and her husband Wil visited, but she said if you stay on Old Johns River Road, it’s a hard place to miss.
The Cup House of Collettsville. Free. 2650 Old Johns River Road, Collettsville, North Carolina
Weeki Wachee mermaids
The quintessential Old Florida roadside attraction is arguably the daily mermaid shows at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park. Since 1947 the mermaids have been performing underwater in the springs right next to U.S. Hwy. 19 about an hour north of Tampa.
The women who portray the mermaids wear finned fishtail costumes, execute acrobatic feats in the water and stage shows such as “The Little Mermaid” before audiences of up to 400 people while using air hoses to breathe. The mermaids swim in a natural spring where the aquamarine water is a constant 72 degrees.
The springs also feed the park’s Buccaneer Bay water park with a variety of thrilling slides and a white-sand beach. Other activities include kayaking and boat tours on the clear waters of the Weeki Wachee River.
Weeki Wachee Springs State Park. $13. 6131 Commercial Way, Weeki Wachee, Florida. 352-610-5660, www.floridastateparks.org/WeekiWachee.