Hither and thither and yon...
September 27, 2012 1:54 PM   Subscribe

I am looking for interesting or weird places to stop on a once-in-a-lifetime epic cross-country road trip. I have a month to traverse the country. I'm planning on stopping at the House on the Rock in WI, the Grand Canyon, and the Jedediah Smith Redwoods Park. Anywhere along this route that I shouldn't miss, either for food or attractions? I am looking particularly for things I would never see or eat if I were not on a road trip, or wonderful places to camp. The route is inside...

The route: Brooklyn, NY; Boston, MA; Buffalo, NY; Detroit, MI; Chicago, IL; Madison, WI; Omaha, NE; Boulder, CO; Grand Junction, CO; Flagstaff, AZ; Los Angeles, CA; San Francisco, CA; Eureka, CA; Portland, OR.
posted by jennyjenny to Travel & Transportation (34 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
You might check out the book Rare Visions & Roadside Revelations, or the PBS show. It sounds like it's just what the doctor ordered.
posted by mr. digits at 2:01 PM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Car Henge.

I know this is probably blowing it all out of proportion, but before I die, I will visit Car Henge.
posted by Sara C. at 2:02 PM on September 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Well, obviously Niagara Falls if you're going to be passing through nearby Buffalo; The Bahai House of Worship is a very cool building to see in Evanston (which is the city just north of Chicago) IL, whether you're Bahai (or religious) or not; next time I pass through Madison I hope to time it to see a Whattya Know with Michael Feldman taping (Sat morning) (and I would recommend a Wait Wait taping but it looks like the tickets for that have gotten expensive since I did it years ago); San Francisco, if you're at all a book person check out City Lights Bookstore, and in Portland check out Powell's giant bookstore. At the Grand Canyon, check out the cool Watchtower toward the eastern end, I really liked that.
posted by aught at 2:07 PM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

*pulls up chair and sits down*

Browse this web site first. You'll find a lot of funky roadside attractions based along the two-lane highways, which is where the kitschy stuff lurks. The "Lonliest Road" route probably falls directly over your route through Colorado.

Specific to your route, and possibly either along-the-way or worth-a-side-trip:

* the Cahokia Mounds in Western Illinois. A perspective on pre-Columbian North America that was at least off my mental map.

* The Precious Moments Chapel in western Missouri is eye-bleedingly tacky. Brace yourself before going and then drink heavily afterward.

* The Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada. It's about an hour outside Las Vegas; it is the most positively alien landscape I've ever been in. You can camp there, but at least just go and walk around a bit.

* If you go to the precious Moments Chapel, going to Vegas a couple days later is a nice foil. (I speak from experience.)

* The Barbary Coast Trail walking tour in San Francisco is a pretty good route for a self-guided tour, especially if you've only got a couple days and want to see a good mix of little-known stuff and big highlights. (They get props for also acknowledging the spot where Emperor Norton's house was.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:07 PM on September 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

The Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada.

I didn't see NV on the op's itinerary, but this is indeed amazing landscape. And juxtaposed with Las Vegas' tack and neon and gambling hordes and shady dudes handing out stripper ads on every street, yes, surreal extremes.
posted by aught at 2:12 PM on September 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

You're going to be near Madison? The House on the Rock, definitely.
posted by punchtothehead at 2:12 PM on September 27, 2012

My only tip is that from LA to San Francisco you should avoid the 5 and take the 1 along the coast.
posted by dogwalker at 2:21 PM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Horshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon near Page, AZ are two of the most photogenic places in the US, in my opinion.

(The wikipedia photos don't quite do it justice. Search Flickr for more shots if you're interested.)
posted by tinymegalo at 2:30 PM on September 27, 2012

As you are in the Flagstaff Area, take the time to drive through the Painted Desert. It's amazing, also expect to see these guys while there.

I'm assuming that lots of this is old Route 66. Especially the Flagstaff to LA part.

You might want to change it up a bit, and get off of 40, and go from Flagstaff and hit:

Sedona, AZ

Montezuma's Castle (and well)

Phoenix, AZ (stop at Poncho's and have a red chile burro for me.)

Then take 10, through the desert, through Quartzite, say hello to Hi Jolly for me.

Joshua Tree National Parkt.

Then go up 1 for a while, but switch over to 101 so you can go to:

The Madonna Inn!

Then back to 1 for Hearst Castle, Monterrey/Santa Cruz (do the boardwalk and the wooden roller coaster)

Then up 17 to 101 or 280 and into San Francisco.

I promise. It's all fabulous. Every, last part!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:33 PM on September 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

You could spend a month in Wisconsin alone. For example, Forevertron.
posted by hydrophonic at 2:38 PM on September 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

Kind of a cool Hindu temple outside of Chicago.
posted by goethean at 2:39 PM on September 27, 2012

Agreed on taking Hwy 1 up the coast to San Francisco and everything Ruthless Bunny suggested.

In Boulder, visit this teahouse. The food is so-so, but the teahouse is spectacular and the teas are wonderful.

Eat here in Chicago if you have the dough. Or do one of the architecture tours down the river.

Lake Havasu City is a very weird place that could make for an interesting stop-off. See the London Bridge while you're there.

In San Francisco, Audium is a unique experience. So is the Museum of the Long Now, and you can eat at nearby Greens at Fort Mason.

On your way up to Oregon, definitely stop by Crater Lake. It's worth the extra time.
posted by Ms. Toad at 2:41 PM on September 27, 2012

Southwest/mountain stuff: Bryce and Zion, depending on how you approach/leave the Grand Canyon area. Monument Valley. Pueblos and cliff dwellings: Bandelier, Puye, Mesa Verde. And the pueblos still in existence, like Taos (or Santa Fe, I suppose.)
posted by snuffleupagus at 2:43 PM on September 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

If "offbeat tourist attractions" are your bag, there's a website and an app for that.
posted by doublesix at 2:53 PM on September 27, 2012

Either before or after you visit the Grand Canyon, do stop and see Hoover Dam. It's an amazing, mind-blowing monument to America, and a beautiful work of art. I really believe everyone should see it. Too many people skip it on a Grand Canyon trip.

Seconding Sedona, AZ. Also, you could swing south from Grand Junction and go through Petrified Forest National Park before going to Flag, then Sedona.
posted by OrangeDisk at 2:54 PM on September 27, 2012

Seconding Bryce and Zion. Bryce might be really, really cold at night though, so be prepared for that if you're planning on camping there.
posted by vakker at 2:58 PM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you're going from Madison to Omaha, I'm assuming you're travelling through Iowa. That means crossing at Dubuque, where you get a fantastic view of the Mississippi river, and some fine riverboat and riverside gambling establishments...and then instead of taking 151 southwest toward Cedar Rapids, take Highway 20 west out of town and hit Dyersville...where things may look a little like Heaven.
posted by thanotopsis at 3:07 PM on September 27, 2012


If you stop at this location on Hwy 93 between Boulder and Golden and look out to the west, you'll see a string of railroad hopper cars. They are filled with rock and are parked there permanently to keep the train from being blown off the track.

I don't know how many times that actually happened before they decided it was cheaper to dedicate 24 railcars to a permenent barrier, but I'd have to guess it was more than twice.
posted by Bruce H. at 3:07 PM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

The world's largest ball of postage stamps is in Boy's Town right outside of Omaha. (pic, info)
posted by jessamyn at 3:10 PM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

You should definitely set up a series of Mefi Meetups for your trip, also!
posted by thanotopsis at 3:12 PM on September 27, 2012

What time of year are you doing this? That will make a big difference. Especially for things like Highway 1, I-80, and the stretch west of Omaha.

I've done basically the trip you're doing a few times. My favorite part of it is probably hands-down the Grand Junction to Flagstaff leg. It is the most beautiful part of the country. Make time for it and visit Arches, Canyonlands, Zion and the Grand Canyon.

There is lots of great camping around Moab. I always preferred to stay outside the national parks and camp on BLM ground. Horse Thief, Onion Creek, Potash, Kane Creek. If you plan on staying in Moab, which is about two hours west of GJ, you should MeMail me. I lived there for a while and can give you a lot of good info. Grand Junction, by the way, is a real shit hole. I highly recommend not stopping there and continuing through to Moab. Trail through Time is kinda cool though.

I agree that you should take Highway 1 up CA, but I would actually get back on 5 in Oregon, if for no other reason to stop through Crater Lake, at least if you're doing the drive in the summer. The Oregon Coast is awesome too, of course, but you can always swing over there for a couple days if you spend any amount of time in Portland.

Oh, and Madison and Omaha are great towns, but the driving stretch between them is a whole lot of nothing. As a native Western Iowan, I can tell you the most interesting thing to see there are the Rest Areas, which are actually kind of awesome.
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:35 PM on September 27, 2012

In Boston I like the centuries-old restaurant Durgin-Park (not linking to their official site due to automatically-playing music). One of the vegetarian options is called the Bale of Hay. Also, you could choose to eat baked beans and piled-high apple pie. You sit at long tables with strangers. Their motto is ''Your Grandfather and perhaps Your Great Grandfather dined with us, too!''
posted by larrybob at 3:35 PM on September 27, 2012

Also in Cambridge, Mass., the Harvard Lampoon building is pretty cool to look at.
posted by larrybob at 3:59 PM on September 27, 2012

Well, first things first, Stay off the interstates, everywhere when possible. In general if you want to see the country, take the paved highway with the most numbers and the lowest jurisdiction you can find that is going in your direction. Such as us highways and state highways usually have 2 numbers, the ones with 3 are much less direct, curvier, more elevation changes and go to more unusual places. County roads are even more so. Usually after that you get dirt roads and passability is iffy in a lot of cases in the western us and your car is going to take a beating.

The leg I know the most about is boulder to Flagstaff. For a better trip and more to see of the rocky mountains and the mountainous southwest go boulder to gunnison to flagstaff. See the black canyon of the Gunnison, the silver than take 149 to south fork and see the headwaters of the Rio Grande (the great river of the southwest that ties together all of new mexico) and some great scenery cross wolf creek pass into Pagaso springs (their is a great cw mccall song about trucking over wolf creek pass-its worth doing at least once in your life). From their you can go to durango stop and see mesa verde and then cortez to four corners, canyon de chelly (pronounced d'che) and monument valley across the navajo reservation to winslow (stop and eat/stay at la pasada, a restored gilded age stop on the railroad that route 66 was built along) and then flagstaff. Eat in flagstaff at beaver street brewery. Take 180 up to the canyon and then back down to williams and west on i-40 (really the only road you can) to kingman than north on 93 to hoover dam and the biggest concrete arch bridge in the world (both are right together and would be worth seeing each on their own) than to vegas and drive the strip at least once (but it is horribly tacky and not worth staying for) back on 95 headed north toward beatty. At beatty get some candy at the biggest damn candy store in the world and head across death valley to san francisco with stops at mono lake at yosemite (if it isn't too crowded).

I just gave you about 7 days to two weeks of travelling depending on how detailed you want to see and how much you want to stay. The other stuff is great to see also but really not on the way at all for road tripping and seeing the icon parts of the southwest and what is left of pre columbian indian culture. YOu will see the high mountains and the bleakest deserts and most of the way I described is not too crowded any time of year. Do check the weather and get gas if you can when you get near or below half a tank. Make sure you have some water and sleeping bags with you for a lot of what i described. Even in good summer travel weather it can be a lonely stretch between civilization. YOu could spend a whole summer on all the national parks, monuments, forests and towns in the stretch between pagaso springs and vegas, north and south of the canyon and not see it all. i lived their for 15 plus years and still haven't seen it all-so don't try. Just enjoy the drive and stay of the damn interstates when you can.

A good pair of binoculars are great and a good truckers atlas is also pretty damn useful (or a good gps with points of interest and gas stations and such that has been updated in the last year at least).
posted by bartonlong at 4:19 PM on September 27, 2012

If you are going to House on the Rock, you should also catch some Shakespeare at Spring Green.

Also, if it piques your interest, Pelee Island in the middle of Lake Erie is accessible via ferry from either Ontario or Ohio (I am assuming you're going the northern route through Canada from Buffalo to Detroit). It's kind of a unique experience to be cut off from the mainland on the island. It's a very nice, quiet, "away-from-it-all" feeling that is different from the away-from-it-all feeling you get out in nature in a big national park. And the ferry ride is pretty cool.

And in general, take boat rides when you can! People don't ride boats often enough anymore. Take the super cheap water taxi in Chicago, take a riverboat cruise on the Mississippi.

Dubuque to the mountains is going to be a whole lotta flat. If your timing works out, hit one of the state or county fairs along the way. The Iowa State Fair is the best fair ever. It's also good country to find Native American pow-wows.
posted by drlith at 5:26 PM on September 27, 2012

I highly recommend Moab/Arches/Canyonlands area. Zion and Bryce are really pretty, but may be too far out of the way. If it's not winter, camping on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon is pretty amazing (if it's winter, you don't have a choice as the road closes.)
posted by csox at 6:32 PM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

You should go to the Hamburg Inn No. 2 in Iowa City and get a pie shake!

Carhenge is going to take you quite a ways north of Boulder, however it is worth the detour. If you do decide to head that way, you should take I-80 from Omaha to Grand Island and then take Highway 2 for a trip through the heart of the Sandhills.
posted by ephemerista at 6:42 PM on September 27, 2012

In Boston, visit the Mapparium.
posted by rmd1023 at 7:38 PM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Wonder Tower in Genoa, CO; Tinkertown Museum outside of Sandia Park, NM; Wigwam Motel in San Bernardino, CA; Museum of Jurassic Technology outside of Los Angeles, Finnish Country Sauna and Tubs in Arcata, CA. If you didn't seem to be skipping mid-Kansas, I would recommend the Garden of Eden, the Grassroots Art Center, and the World's Largest Collection of the World's Smallest Versions of the World's Largest Things (all in Lucas, KS).
posted by unknowncommand at 7:50 PM on September 27, 2012

Pella, IA, is a beautiful little Dutch town, which has gorgeous tulips in the spring. Nice old-fashioned bakery, ice cream parlor, etc. It's about an hour off of 80. Not near Dyersville.

People like the Mystery Spot in Santa Cruz, CA. It's a house of optical illusions, where balls seem to roll uphill, etc. UC-Santa Cruz is also amazing: a college campus among the redwoods. Again about an hour off 101.

The Henry Ford and Greenfield Village outside of Detroit is a weird collection of Americana kitsch: Henry Ford collected all these historical buildings (the Wright Brothers' shop, Edison's lab from Menlo Park) and brought them to Detroit.
posted by dd42 at 10:08 PM on September 27, 2012

This old post might be helpful for the NE and IA legs. In it dilettanti too recommends Pella!
posted by dd42 at 10:10 PM on September 27, 2012

Niagara Falls
The Four Corners and Monument Valley area.
posted by Blake at 3:49 AM on September 28, 2012

I forgot to mention, Buelton/Solvang off of 101. You can see and do what you want in about 2 hours.

Pea Soup Andersen's for lunch.

Mission Santa Ines is a lovely example, and frankly, you really should see at least ONE mission in California.

As a kid you'd have to drag me out of San Juan Batista.

Also, if you're going through San Jose, a trip to the Rosecrucian museum is pretty awesome.

Shit, just spend about 20 years of your life in the Bay Area.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:51 AM on September 28, 2012

If you can swing it, St. Louis is probably worth a visit for The City Museum alone. It's an old shoe factory that's littered with found objects, scrap, slides, and an ever-growing collection of ephemera, most of which you can climb in, on, around, and through. It's a lot of fun on a Friday night, and it's full of all kinds of weirdness. (If that sounds like kid stuff, keep in mind that inside there is a bar, a vintage clothing shop, and a seven story circular slide.)

In Detroit, I'll recommend the Detroit Institute of Arts and Greenfield Village/The Henry Ford Museum. Those are each probably worth a day though, which is fine because Detroit is full of fun things.
posted by Turkey Glue at 8:48 AM on September 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

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