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On our family vacations, we’ve found a key to making family road trips more fun. Traveling with kids on a road trip means stopping for food, snacks, and bathroom breaks frequently. Instead of stressing about getting to your destination, make your road trip stops more exciting by entering the quirky, weird world of roadside attractions. From dinosaurs and castles to chocolate factories and waterfalls, check out these tips on finding boredom-busting road trip attractions of weird America wherever you go.
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Snap a Photo
The classic roadside stop when you’re on a road trip across America is the photo opportunity. Why visit Carhenge or the World’s Largest Ball of Twine unless you get a picture? One of our family’s favorite photo stops is the Superman statue in Metropolis, Illinois (after taking family photos with the statue, we ducked into the Super Museum’s gift shop to see comics, figurines, and more). You can take photos to convince friends you’re in Paris if your route passes one of the many replica Eiffel tours in the U.S. (like in Paris, Tennessee; Paris, Texas; or Fayetteville, North Carolina). For me personally, the Cabazon dinosaurs off of Interstate 10 have always been on my photo wishlist. Many of these stops offer nearby restaurants and bathrooms to fulfill all of your road trip needs.
Discover Where the Locals Eat
Sure, you could head to the closest fast-food chain at lunchtime. But for a change of pace and scenery, find a favorite local restaurant for your meal. Try a local diner, like The Varsity in Atlanta or Carl’s Drive-In off Route 66 in St. Louis. If you’re driving through Kentucky and are in the mood for a fancy meal, stop at Castle Farm at The Kentucky Castle and have brunch. We love to stop at the River Market in Little Rock, Arkansas, on road trips–it’s a great way to see the city, and it gives us an opportunity to talk about the area’s civil rights history. Orchards and farms also make good lunchtime stops; call ahead to see if there’s a restaurant on-site, and you may even be able to pick your own apples while you are there!
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Find a Quirky State Park
State parks have become one of my favorite places to stop for a picnic, bathroom break, or leg stretch. We visited Tennessee’s Dunbar Cave State Park on a recent road trip when we were searching for a place to have lunch. To our delight, we found that the park has an old cave system with Native American art drawn into the walls; it also has buildings remaining from when it was a popular dance spot in the 1930s and 1940s. In Texas, Dinosaur Valley State Park is just off a state highway between Fort Worth and San Antonio, and you can see dinosaur footprints in the local creekbed. Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in Borrego Springs, California, offers desert hikes, dark-sky viewing, and the chance to spot bighorn sheep.
Traveling with kids means frequent stops. Instead of stressing about getting to your destination, make your road trip more exciting by entering the quirky, weird world of roadside attractions.
Hike to Waterfalls
If wiggles and whines are taking over the backseat of your car, it may be time to stop for a waterfall hike. Don’t let visions of hours-long adventures and high peaks daunt you. With a little research, you can find easy waterfall treks tucked just a few minutes off your route. In Oregon, Munson Creek Falls is a quick detour off the Oregon Coast Highway, with the falls accessible via a half-mile hike. If you’re up for a longer stop, find a waterfall with a swimming hole or creek and let the kids splash around. Turner Falls is located just off Interstate 35 in Oklahoma, and the park has wading areas, sandy beaches, and easy access to restrooms and snacks.
Explore a Museum
Museums may not come to mind right away for a roadside attraction. After all, you’re headed somewhere specific, and spending hours in a museum won’t get you there quickly. However, some museums like the Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida, or the USS Alabama in Mobile, Alabama, offer outside displays that you can view during a brief stop. Other museums are worth the small admission cost for the entertainment they bring to your road trip breaks. For instance, the Casey Jones Museum off of Interstate 40 in Tennessee offers free admission for children under 5 and will be popular with train-crazy kiddos. Older kids might enjoy the Dr. Pepper Museum near I-35 in Waco, Texas, where you can create and bottle your own soda. Any Star Trek fans who happen to be driving through Iowa will want to pay tribute to the future birthplace of James T. Kirk and stop in at the free Voyage Home Museum in Riverside, about 20 minutes south of Iowa City.
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Mention shopping to your kids, and you’ll probably get an eye roll. However, these shopping destinations are worth a quick roadside stop. If you’re driving between New York and Pittsburgh, take a detour to the town of Hershey and stop into Hershey’s Chocolate World for candy and souvenirs (don’t worry, there’s also a food hall nearby in case you want to skip the sugar rush). You can take a free 30-minute chocolate-making tour–and be sure to check out the town’s distinctive street lights before you leave! Fixer Upper fans who happen to be driving through Texas on I-35 will want to stop at Magnolia Market at the Silos for home decor, garden kits, and tons of food options. And if you’re driving through Memphis, make a quick stop off of I-40 to visit the Memphis Pyramid–it’s a Bass Pro Shop that includes restaurants, a bowling alley, an observation deck, and an archery range.
Finally, I’d like to share one of my very favorite types of roadside attractions–the ones closest to home. Finding those special places is a great way to get to know your own city and state even better. Drive west from L.A. to Santa Monica to visit the very end of Route 66, go take a picture with the ferris wheel at Long Beach, or even stand in front of the Hollywood sign like a tourist. These quick stops can add fun when you’re out running errands from day to day.
Remember, some of the best roadside attractions are the ones you don’t have to plan around. If you see a sign that looks interesting, consider stopping to discover something new. On our family trips, we’ve found that our willingness to look for the unexpected makes our kids more observant travelers. They’ll watch out the window and tell us what surprises they find along the way. Thanks to roadside attractions and a willingness to stop and explore, our trips are more memorable than ever before.
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