Stop the car, Dad!
April 24, 2006 8:24 AM   Subscribe

What quirky/marginally unsafe/weird/fun/"too good to be true" places do you remember from your childhood (and that might still exist now)?

This is sort of hard to describe so here's some links to the types of places I am talking about:

Camden Park
The Tilden Park steam trains
Santa's Land, North Carolina
The Cabazon Dinos
Olentangy Indian Caverns
South of the Border

Links, if you please, would be nice. Memories good, too. I am familiar with books/sites like Roadside America. Just looking for others.
posted by crosten to Travel & Transportation (48 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
While not from my childhood, the City Museum in St. Louis definitely qualifies as quirky, unsafe, weird, fun, and too good to be true. (photo tour)
posted by zsazsa at 8:33 AM on April 24, 2006

When we lived in Okinawa, we went to Ocean Expo park a few times. My favorite part of it was the HUGE playground- the Japanese have the coolest playgrounds. Slides made of smooth concrete built into hills right on the ground, zip lines, and a huge net climbing structure with a trillion different levels.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:41 AM on April 24, 2006 [1 favorite]

I tried finding a website for the place, but couldn't locate one.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:41 AM on April 24, 2006 [1 favorite]

The Niagra Museum. Circa 1991, they had at least one Egyptian mummy lying in a basic glass case exposed to daily sunlight, which horrified me as a snotty 12-year old accustomed to museums full of dark, hermetically-sealed shrines. The inside of the redwood tree is covered in business cards attached with chewing gum; I also remember several exhibits of 2-headed cows floating in formaldhyde and so forth. The web site paints it as much less quirky than it was then.
posted by junkbox at 8:41 AM on April 24, 2006

Deer Park Fun Land AKA: Fear Park Gun Land (Now Called Michigan's Adventure)

Sea Shell City (Its See the Man Eating Clam! billboards made a huge childhood impression on me, despite the fact that the place is just a pole-barn selling seashell tchotchkes.)

Squire Boone Caverns

And of course, the perennial West Michigan Elementary School field trip destination: Dutch Village
posted by Chrischris at 8:42 AM on April 24, 2006

The Tivoli Funhouse in Copenhagen. The Tivoli is still around, so hopefully the Funhouse is too. Crazy ladders, steel floor plates that rotate so your ankles twist out from under you, lotsa ways to sustain minor injuries!
posted by Quietgal at 8:43 AM on April 24, 2006

Casa Bonita in Denver was quirky (cliff divers, caves, gorillas) and fun as a five year and hugely disappointing (bad Mexican food, screaming five-year olds everywhere) as a twenty-something.
posted by Staggering Jack at 8:49 AM on April 24, 2006

Carlsbad Caverns (New Mexico)

Devil's Tower (Wyoming)

Sorry, don't have time to find links right now.
posted by LadyBonita at 8:57 AM on April 24, 2006

Also, for pure unadulterated hokum, you can't miss Wall Drug in Wall, South Dakota. More kitsch than you ever though possible in a single location, and signs everywhere ("Only X miles to Wall Drug, Wall, South Dakota!"). I saw one in Amsterdam, even.
posted by Quietgal at 8:59 AM on April 24, 2006

All of these places are still around, but I don't know how much they've changed since the 70's.

I did See Rock City when I was a kid. It's still there, but a bit more slick these days.
Natural Tunnel State Park has this old fashioned chair lift that takes you down to look at a giant hole through the mountain.

And then their was the recurring field trip to the American Museum of Science and Energy in Oak Ridge which always seems creepy to me because while we were learning how cool nuclear energy was, and taught about the history of the Manhattan Project, I don't remember much on the horrors of Hiroshima.

My favorite spooky, weird place: Bristol Caverns
posted by kimdog at 9:05 AM on April 24, 2006

I'll second the City Museum. It came to life only when I was in high school, but the place is pure brilliance. For an imaginative, exploratory kid, I would bet there are very few cooler places on Earth.
posted by AgentRocket at 9:10 AM on April 24, 2006

this is sadly not from my childhood, but from my boyfriend's father's, who used to live in Tennessee.

The thing to do when visiting Oak Ridge National Labs was to visit the souvenir making machines in the gift shop where for a couple pennies you could have your very own dime irradiated on the spot, and walk away with it in a little plastic display container.

Sadly, this is no longer there. The last time he brought the dime by Oak Ridge and asked about the machine the people working there got kind of uncomfortable...
posted by whatzit at 9:15 AM on April 24, 2006

There used to be a Buffalo farm in Ashland, MA. Buffalo! In Ashland! It was quite surreal. I didn't know what a buffalo was back then but it sure impressed my parents. They were big and hairy. That sort of thing sticks with you.

The only place we ever went on vacation, and we only went there once, was Point Sebago in Maine. We rented a smelly, damp pop-up trailer and I could have been staying in a marshmallow hotel in candyland. It was the greatest place on Earth. We cooked hot-dogs over an open fire, played mini-golf, saw movies, played games with stoned camp staff, and took The Songo River Queen up the Songo River. It was like touring Willy Wonka's candy shop only without the child abuse and abduction.

I imagine if I went back today it would be nothing more than a ratty trailer park / tourist-resort-from-hell, something I'd make fun of, but I like to remember it as a magical place where the sunfish shit jellybeans, popcorn grows on trees and mommy and daddy only fight once.
posted by bondcliff at 9:25 AM on April 24, 2006

The old, classic Perry's Nut House in Belfast, Maine.

Sadly, most all the cool stuff that used to be in the nut house was sold in 1997 and the 'new Perry's' is just a shadow of its former glory.
posted by anastasiav at 9:28 AM on April 24, 2006

I discovered Santa Monica, CA's Pacific Ocean Park in 1964 when I was about 11 years old and fell in love with the place. It was like Disneyland, only rundown and kind of edgy. The rides were as likely to be broken down as operable but that was part of the park's charm and my friends and I were devastated when the park closed a couple of years later.

The Pike in Long Beach was even seedier and a favorite destination a few years later when I was in high school. It was really seedy, with hookers, tattoo parlors, drunken sailors, fights all over the place and a world class roller coaster.
posted by buggzzee23 at 9:35 AM on April 24, 2006

Seaside, NJ. Slightly shady boardwalk, amusement parks, and beach. Skee-ball and fireworks.

Guy once told me stories about working there a couple decades ago, in one of the souvenir shops on the boardwalk. Sometimes the power would go out, and the protocol was to slam the metal gates down as quick as possible and hunker down.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 9:42 AM on April 24, 2006

There used to be a funhouse at the Oregon State Fair Ground. The thing was a firetrap. By its nature it was a maze inside. It eventually did burn down, but no one was inside at the time.

But it was really cool. It was always a favorite of our when we went to the fair when I was a kid.

That thing was dreadfully dangerous, between the area with the spinning disks on the floor (falls and twisted ankles just waiting to happen) to the longest slides I've ever seen outside a water park. Now that I think back on it, it's amazing they weren't constantly hauling injured people out of there when it was in use.

No one would ever build anything like it today, more's the pity. Because it did deserve its name; it really was a funhouse.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 9:47 AM on April 24, 2006

Intercourse, PA, the economy of which is driven by an equal mix of Amish handicrafts and hilarious "I heart Intercourse" t-shirts, keychains, and other crap.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 9:48 AM on April 24, 2006

The Cyclone in Coney Island.
posted by any major dude at 10:21 AM on April 24, 2006

My parents always took us to Bay Beach Park in Green Bay. For a kid it was cool, and I have a sibling that still returns, so it can't be that bad for the kids at heart.
posted by vagabond at 10:27 AM on April 24, 2006

I grew up in Collinsville, IL, just outside of St. Louis, Mo (and the awesome City Museum mentioned above). We have the world's largest ketchup bottle. It probably was a lot cooler as tourist than a local. My town also has a horseradish festival every year to celebrate our once great honor of producing the most horseradish in the world.
posted by rabbitsnake at 10:30 AM on April 24, 2006

Cowtown has lived large in my memory.
posted by salvia at 10:39 AM on April 24, 2006

You used to be able to swim at Stone Mountain Beach, near Atlanta. Not only that, but there was a really bizarre wooden staircase contraption in the lake that kids could wade out to. It consisted of two parts - one was a zip wire that you could ride out over the lake and then let go of to drop into the water. The more exciting part was the hugely tall waterslide that you had to climb up several stories on a rickety staircase to get to. The dangerous thing about that was that you had to carry a very heavy mattress thing over your head as you climbed up, and the stairs were always filled with kids above and below you. One false move on those damp stairs and we would have all come toppling down like dominos. The slide down seemed fairly safe in comparison to the terrifying climb up.

Does anyone else remember this thing? It must have been around 1980 that I was there.

Now you can't even swim in the lake (I'm guessing because of pollution), so the wooden contraption must be long gone.
posted by hazyjane at 10:43 AM on April 24, 2006

Lake Havasu, Arizona has the original London Bridge over part of it; it was moved there in 1962. If I remember correctly it has a weird mix of pseudo-British tourist shops and typical watersport/lake recreational stuff.
posted by mayfly wake at 11:19 AM on April 24, 2006

Hanna Barbera Land, though it's now sadly closed.

Echoing Carlsbad Caverns -- we went a bunch of times when I was a kid, since we were so close.

Haha, and Casa Bonita! Plot point in one of the funniest South Park episodes ever. Apparently my parents took me there, but I don't remember it.
posted by sugarfish at 11:33 AM on April 24, 2006

I'm not sure it's what you want, but I can't resist mentioning the Museum of Pathological Anatomy housed in an old insane asylum in Vienna. Ewwww!!
posted by Aknaton at 11:44 AM on April 24, 2006

A barn full of different levels of hay for jumping from/into fits all five of your requirements.

There was a park in Waterville, Maine, long since closed. And I remember strange climbing structures that definitely, in retrospect, were too good to be true. One in particular--several levels high, closed in by netting, and the "floors" of each level were made up only of long, thick elastic woven together, so that you could spread them apart and lift yourself through them, but also sit, stand or land on them. Always wondered what the heck that really was, since my memory is very foggy. But I loved that place.

bondcliff--I worked at Point Sebago for three summers in the bar. I did always wonder why families would pay such a fortune to stay in what were essentially trailers (and called it a "resort")...But to imagine being there as a kid is another story. Because the parents would basically abandon the kids for the bar at 3:00 every day, the kids ran free--stealing beer from coolers, running around in packs, doing whatever the hell they wanted. Musta been great. Of course, many of these kids were also spoiled little brats. But doesn't mean they weren't having fun. Then, one day, they're 21 and can drink with their parents at happy hour. What a joyous day. Seriously. It was fun to work there, too--it wasn't quite the Dirty Dancing fantasy people imagine, but that's the closest example. :)
posted by lampoil at 11:53 AM on April 24, 2006

ASTROWORLD in Houston, Texas. I LOVED this place when I was in Jr. High. and High School (before I could drive).
Texas Cyclone was awesome. Tons of bands played there in the 80s. Adam Ant, Billy Idol, Simple Minds, Power Station, etc...
Sadly, it is now closed. :(
posted by nimsey lou at 12:23 PM on April 24, 2006

I was just at the City Museum for the first time this Saturday! I agree with everyone else that it's one of the best places ever. I would have died from happiness if there was a place like that when I was a kid.

I can also ditto Staggering Jack's memory of Casa Bonita.

My other favorites were in South Dakota. The Dinosaur Park, Storybook Land, and Flintstones Bedrock City.
posted by MsMolly at 12:32 PM on April 24, 2006

When I was a kid, my parents took me to the Boston Children's Museum. I will always remember it for three reasons:

1. Bomb threats. We had to go outside literally every hour because another bomb threat had been called in. This would've been early '90s -- was the Boston Children's Museum a major terrorist target? I have no idea what the deal was, but all the employees were very blasé about it.

2. A jungle gym between floors. Parents could take a flight of stairs to get to the next level, and kids could climb up on monkey bars. This rocked my six-year-old world.

3. What I remember as a "life-size dollhouse" completely contained within the museum. What is a "life-size dollhouse"? Wouldn't it be, you know, an actual house? I'm not sure. But, dammit, I remember that it was fascinating.
posted by booksandlibretti at 12:49 PM on April 24, 2006

Hazyjane, I well remember the Stone Mountain Climb of Death. Soooo much fun as a kid/tween. Worst memory ever: getting my period at 12 while there, with my Dad. Horrible, horrible, horrible.

I loved when you could feed the young pilot whales at Sea World (in San Diego) back in the 70s, maybe even early 80s -- they would rise up out of their small pools and you could throw herring into their mouths. Now it's kind of cool to go to the Anheiser-Busch barns and look at the Clydesdales there.... last time I went there was a baby Clydesdale.
posted by mdiskin at 12:55 PM on April 24, 2006

Lost River in New Hampshire. I thought this was the coolest place on Earth.
posted by turtle42 at 1:59 PM on April 24, 2006

The most dangerous attraction I remember was the Mount Tom alpine slide in CT. It was basically a cement track on a ski slope. You raced down in a small open cart on wheels, with the only control being a center handle which provided brakes if you pulled back. I remember racing my brother and sister down (there were two tracks, I started in one, they doubled up on the other).

I won. Halfway down, they flipped their cart, and as they were moving pretty fast, they scrapped themselves along the cement path for a hundred yards or so. Not pretty. I didn't know until they came limping down later.

Unfortunately, I can't find a good picture of it. Mount Tom (also a ski slope when not a childhood death trap) closed a number of years ago.

Good times, good times.
posted by genefinder at 2:04 PM on April 24, 2006

House on the Rock will always stick with me for some reason. I must have visited there during a very impressionable phase of my youth. It was a total trip to read about it in Gaiman's American Gods and remember all of the exhibits.

I have to agree with City Museum in St. Louis. Having grown up there and been several times, it's a fun place.

Also I vividly remember visting Shiloh Battlefield for some random reason.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 3:52 PM on April 24, 2006

We too lived in Okinawa, and as kids, my little brother and I would sneak up the stairwell in a 8 floor building. On top of that building was an abandoned broken down Amusement Park.

We would squeeze through the bars and get in. It was fun running around looking at everything.
posted by Relly70 at 4:01 PM on April 24, 2006

Upper Canada Village, Ontario's Santa's Village, Boldt Castle (by boat, not car!), the Colborne, ON Big Apple, Sandbanks Provincial Park, nickel mines in Sudbury, Magnetic Hill in New Brunswick, the Prince Edward Mariners' Museum.
posted by mendel at 4:08 PM on April 24, 2006

In california:
Dennis The Menace Park: we used to go there almost every year as kids. There was a weird crane-like structure that could be spun about at high speeds and held up to 15 kids or so. That was gone when I returned about 5 years ago (there was NO way they could've kept that in there -- totally awesome death trap.) The steam train (that you can climb in, on, and under) is still there, however, and they've added a lot of newfangled junk that is still pretty cool, and manages get pretty far from the "OMG SOMEONE WILL SUE US" playground equipment that you see in most of the US these days.

Musee Mechanique: I didn't go here as a kid, and it's now located in (eeeewww) Fisherman's wharf, instead of near the kickass sutro bath ruins, but it's still pretty cool.

Fairy Tale Town in Sacramento was one of the most awesomest magical places for me as a youngster. Our neighbor would iusually take us out there, and follow it up with a trip to Funderland or the nearby Sac zoo. Fairy Tale town had two or three incredibly badass "attractions" -- a big old pirate ship with a fake mini-golf type moat around it. Robin Hood's hideout, which was basically a little hedge maze with some rope swings in a clearing, and a "Crooked Mile Maze", which we used to run through at high speed.

At one time, one of the workers or docents told us that one of the rocks used to build the "Woman who lived in a shoe" building would open a secret door filled with candy and bubblegum. Every time I went there I looked for that switch in vain. I think it was three or four years later that I realized it (probably*) did not exist. Sometimes lying to kids is awesome.

There is also a fairy tale town in oakland, but you have to have a kid with you in order to get in (just like the one in sacramento), so I've been unable to visit.

Here's a list of other fairytale land-type parks

* probably, because, you know, it'd be damn cool if it did.
posted by fishfucker at 4:42 PM on April 24, 2006

Well, the Mütter Museum, of course.
posted by desuetude at 5:48 PM on April 24, 2006

From my childhood - Tokyo Tower - The wax museum has been there ever since I can remember.
Not from my childhood, but the Meguro Parasitological Museum - Went the other day with my son. Ew.

And something I'd forgotten about before this question reminded me. Although I've never been there, I remember reading about the Winchester Mystery House as a kid and really, really wanting to see the real thing.
posted by misozaki at 5:50 PM on April 24, 2006

Also in St Louis, the Magic House. I went a couple of times as a kid, before I lived in St Louis. I moved away from STL several months ago, and one of the things on my list to do before I left was to re-visit the Magic House. Then I decided it had probably changed enough that I'd enjoy my old childhood memories more than any new adult ones.

There's also a Casa Bonita in Tulsa OK.
posted by attercoppe at 5:57 PM on April 24, 2006

yeah, for less quirky but still cool stuff see :

Bay Area:
Exploratorium (good times here, both as a child and a somewhat intoxicated teenager)
Lawrence Hall of Science (Beautiful views of the bay -- also, the guy who did Seattle's The Sound Garden has a piece there).

There's also the Mystery Spot in Santa Cruz, which I haven't been to, but am constantly making plans to visit (BECAUSE IT'S MYSTEEEEEEERRRIIIOOUS).
posted by fishfucker at 7:39 PM on April 24, 2006

Kiddyland on the border of West Hollywood--which is now the Beverly Center.
posted by brujita at 10:35 PM on April 24, 2006

The Enchanted Forest in Ellicott City, MD. I LOVED the Enchanted Forest when I was little and begged my parents to take me as often as possible. It's been closed for years now. Jon Waters filmed part of his film Cry Baby there.
posted by LeeJay at 1:21 AM on April 25, 2006

Such organized places, how are they a bit dangerous? The cool place I remember as a kid was climbing around the remains of either a bridge or a damn (or both?) in my home town, while the stinking polluted river flowed past. (we all 'knew' if you feel in, you would drown).

For the more tame sort of thing, once or twice I got the chance to run wild in Detroit Metro* airport. This was back in the days before security was a major issue, and as a kid, I could get away with 'not noticing' the "No Admitance" signs.

*might have been Willowrun, or both.
posted by Goofyy at 6:48 AM on April 25, 2006

Bob-lo Island (1, 2). Sadly now closed. There was something about taking a big old boat ride to the amusement park that added to the excitement.

The Snowball Dining Room in Mammoth Caves, KY really impressed me as a young lad. There's something really cool about eating lunch in a cafeteria in a cave miles underground.

In the marginally unsafe category, as a teen I used to love exploring the Ohio Hospital For Epileptics in my hometown in southeast Ohio. From the link:

"The hospital was opened for the reception of patients, November 30, 1893. Six more cottages have since been erected, and when the buildings now in course of construction are completed, which will be during the present year (1901), accommodations will have been made for 1,060 patients. The buildings will then consist of thirteen residence cottages with from fifty to seventy-six beds each; one laundry cottage for seventy-five patients; one cottage for the insane, with a capacity of 200; one schoolhouse; two industrial buildings, each containing eight large, well-lighted and well-ventilated rooms, accommodating twenty five patients each - in many of the manual industries commonly followed; one kitchen and bakery building; one ice machine and cold storage building, with a capacity of eighteen tons daily; two large congregate dining-rooms; one boiler, power, and electric light building; one waterworks building; one hospital building, accommodating sixty, and one administration building. The cost of the buildings up to the time when those under way shall have been completed, will be $565,000."

The place really was a self-contained city. Most of that stuff listed was still there when we went exploring in the 80s. I think much of it has been torn down now, including the strikingly huge administrative building, which was rumored to have thousands of snakes living underneath it.

The amazing thing was that the place was not fenced off at all. You could walk right up and start poking around. Many of the buildings were abandoned and filled with old debris. I still have some of the really bizarre training and procedure manuals that I found in the medical buildings. The patients really were treated like animals there.

As an added bonus, the whole place was set up against a range of hills, and if you went all the way back through it and up into the hills, there was a large system of caves to explore.

And it's funny you link to Camden Park. I was just at that site reminiscing the other day. We took a road trip there, again in the mid 80s, to see "The Byrds" play. It was probably just one original guy, tambourine player maybe, but living in southeast Ohio, your entertainment options are limited. Anyway, so we drove down and took our seats among the thronging Byrds fans (snicker) and this huge thunderstorm kicks up and dumps about 5 inches of rain on the park. Show cancelled. So we spent the rest of the day splashing around a nearly deserted Camden Park. The only bad thing I remember is that we couldn't play any video games in the arcade because we were all soaked and kept getting shocked by the games. Good times.
posted by Otis at 8:33 AM on April 25, 2006

Speaking of Wall Drug, if you're ever in Mitchell, SD, visit the Corn Palace. It has to be seen to be believed.
posted by cass at 8:40 AM on April 25, 2006

Speaking of Roadside America (the guide to weirdness and kitsch) you HAVE to check out Roadside America (the actual place). The latter is an indoor miniature village, and must be seen to be believed. It's been around for over 70 years, and is just...well...fabulous. I grew up near South Of The Border, and that place never amused me as much as Roadside America. A friend of mine grew up in Pennsylvania, and he dragged us up to see R.A. earlier this year. I scoffed at the idea of visiting a "miniature village", but the kitsch value was immeasurable. Smack in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country, for extra added fun.

As they say on their site, "BE PREPARED TO SEE MORE THAN YOU EXPECT".
posted by NewGear at 10:14 AM on April 25, 2006

I used to love Sliding Rock when I was a kid. The site also has other natural waterslides. Only feasible in the summer, that water at the bottom is real cold.
posted by jefeweiss at 11:34 AM on April 25, 2006

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