Unique, Fascinating, and Off-the-Beaten Path Attractions…Part 2
A continuation of my exploration of all that is quirky and weird. As I travel throughout the US, I always make it a point to check out strange, historic, roadside, and eclectic places, and really anything else unusual that catches my eye. Below are some fascinating and oddball attractions located across the US. Also visit my original guide to unique attractions!
Location: Pittsburgh, PA
The place where all bicycle go to die…well at least 6000 of them! The world’s largest bicycle museum
and shop was started in 2011 by Craig and Mindy Morrow of Pittsburgh. What started as just one bike from a junkyard turned into a massive collection of vintage (any many super rare) bikes which we all get to enjoy today. This place is anything but boring – with a fun retro theme, old time memorabilia, and an overall pleasing aesthetic.
Highlights include 17 Bowen Space Landers (only 445 were made), Pee-Wee Herman’s iconic red bike from Big Adventure, The Monkees bike, and a large collection of themed bikes including a really groovy Beatles Yellow submarine model. A must for anyone who loves quirky TV and movie nostalgia!
World’s Fanciest McDonalds
Location: Asheville, NC
Many have heard of the famed Biltmore Estate, the largest home in America at 175,000 square feet. A grand house also has to have a grand village. Biltmore Village is a charming old-world neighborhood which once housed employees of the Biltmore. Today, you can shop, dine, and enjoy the historic charm. While many great local establishments dot the district, you will also find several familiar chains including a McDonald’s which is a bit fancier than usual.
Here you can feast on a Big Mac, French fries, and a milkshake, only in the company of chandeliers, a fireplace, and a self playing piano. Whether or not your are a fan of fast food (Asheville has so many wonderful local restaurants), you may just want to stop in for a coffee or hot chocolate. I recommend going the healthy route and ordering a salad or simply enjoying a cup of coffee.
River Arts District
Location: Asheville, NC
Popular arts district along the French Broad River in Asheville was once home to industrial buildings. What once was old and outdated is now a bustling tourist attraction. Over 270 artists have taken up residence here since the district opened to the public in 1994. Today visitors can watch artists in action via numerous studio tours and art walks. Eclectic breweries and coffeeshops offer a place to refuel in between exploring the eclectic galleries. Most notably, the area is known for its’ many colorful graffiti art murals.
Aluminum Tree Museum
Location: Brevard, NC
In a small town named Brevard in Western North Carolina, you will come across a tiny quirky seasonal museum exhibit dedicated to aluminum Christmas trees! For anyone who grew up during the heyday of aluminum Christmas trees (the 60’s and 70’s), visiting this museum should really be a nostalgic treat. These “Space Age” trees are becoming popular once again, with many selling for hundreds of dollars online!
At this funky museum, you can view dozens of these sparky trees, of all different sizes and colors. Some of the displays are also themed after popular media of the 60’s i.e. The Beatles, Barbie, Elvis etc. How did this crazy ideal come about? In 1991, owner Steven Jackson was given a tree found in a dump as a joke. He received another a few years later and continued to collect trees from garage sales and flea markets until his collection became too large. Today, we all get to enjoy a collection of tinsel trees from long ago.
Location: Tampa, FL
Every year since 1904, more than 100 floats and pirates make their way down beautiful Bayshore Blvd. in Tampa, Florida. This eclectic annual festival, known as “Gasparilla Pirate Fest” claims the title of largest pirate parade. More than 300,000 visitors brave the heat and humidity to attend this event each January. The event is named in honor of Jose Gaspar, a pirate of late 18th and early 19th century.
There’s lots to look forward to here including street festivals, live entertainment, races, and the iconic Gasparilla invasion featuring 750 pirates arriving by ship.
Fountain of Youth Park
Location: St Augustine, FL
This historic park in St. Augustine is said to be the place where Ponce de Leon landed and discovered the legendary Fountain of Youth. Of course, while here you will be able to take a drink form the legendary waters said to grant immortality. The cure for death or not, the water is loaded with healthy minerals. You will also get to learn more about the Spanish settlers, as well as the Timucuan tribe who were here first. Founded in 1565 by explorer Pedro Menendez, this site stands as the oldest continuously occupied European settlement in North America. For the historical value alone, it’s worth a visit.
Potter’s Wax Museum
Location: St. Augustine, FL
You know all those weird wax museums which you come across in tacky tourist areas? Well, the one which started the US craze is actually located in St. Augustine. The museum was opened in 1948, making it the oldest wax museum in the US. Founder George Potter was impressed by London’s iconic Madame Tussauds. Today, you can view over 160 lifelike wax figures in St. Augustine’s bustling historic district. While it won’t take up much time, it’s a cool experience as you will encounter many famous faces including politicians, movie stars, singers, and historical figures.
Some of these artistic creations are just too realistic. The lifelike representation of the person almost makes the thought of being alone in the room with one of them quite creepy. If you have ever seen House of Wax, then you will surely know what I mean!
World’s largest inflatable water slide
Location: Treasure Island, FL
You will find lots of strange stuff on Florida’s Gulf Coast. The super hot, humid weather calls for creative solutions to deal with the heat. One of these is the largest inflatable slide located on Treasure Island beach. Known as The Hippo slide, it’s 4 stories high. A fun and unique way to cool down for sure. Afterwards explore some of the most beautiful beaches in the country. Check out my full guide to the beaches of Florida’s Gulf Coast.
Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum
Location: Gatlinburg, TN
This unique museum in the Smoky Mountains displays 20,000 sets of salt and pepper shakers. Really, you will find everything and anything here. From themed shakers based on animals, plants, movie and TV characters, and religious icons, there’s just so much to discover. The massive holiday collection is pretty fantastic. Most notably, the museum holds a large collection of Blue Willow shakers. Admission is just 3 bucks and can be applied towards anything in the gift shop.
The Sponge Capital of the World
Location: Tarpon Springs, FL
This small Greek town on the Gulf Coast of Florida claims the title of “sponge capital of the world.” Sponges are skeletons of sea creatures, and Tarpon Springs harvests 90% of the world’s sea supply. In the early 1900’s, Greek immigrants settled the area. A thriving sponge industry was born. While in the city, you can tour the sponge docks, eat authentic Greek food (treat yourself to Baklava cheesecake at Hella’s), and shop for more sponges than you could possibly imagine at Spongeorama. Just about every gift shop sells sponge gift sets and knick knacks.
The world’s steepest passenger railway
Location: Chattanooga, TN
At a 72.7% grade, The Incline Railway at Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga is the “world’s steepest passenger railway.” The funicular (which uses cable to travel up steep slopes) opened in 1895. Today it is a National Historic Landmark. The steep mile long ride takes you up to Lookout Mountain. On a clear day, the views are beautiful. Due to the incredibly steep nature of the ride, it’s quite scary to even get into the car! A pretty cool experience as long as you are not afraid of heights! The ride up is more exhilarating than the ending view! While you could also drive to the top, that kind of takes away the fun 😉
Location: Chattanooga, TN
This 140 foot waterfall claims the title of the tallest and deepest underground waterfall open for public tours. After making your way down a 260 foot glass elevator, you will be taken on a tour of the ancient cave. It’s pretty cool to see all the weird formations and learn more about the history of the area. The choreographed show is a bit cheesy, although spectacular and unique at the same time. Reservations are required.