American Kitsch, Keeping Road Trips Interesting Through The Ages

Published January 21, 2015
Updated May 22, 2018

America is marked by long stretches of highway, which pass through large, developed cities and small, sleepy hamlets. Wherever your trek takes you, you can be sure to spot a little bit of strange roadside Americana on the way.

From fairy-tale statues to museums dedicated to tinned pork products, travelers can always find an interesting place to stretch, imagine and learn.

Cabazon Dinosaurs, Cabazon, California

American Kitsch Cabazon Dinosaurs
The Cabazon Dinosaurs tower over Interstate 10 in California, right outside of Palm Springs. Claude K. Bell, Knotts Berry Farms’ sculptor, built them to drum up visitors to his restaurant called the Wheel Inn Café. Source: Wikimedia

American Kitsch Cabazon Dinosaurs
In 1988, Bell died and the attraction was sold to the Cabazon Family Partnership and MKA Cabazon Partnership. They remodeled the dinosaur attraction and soon transformed it into a…creationist museum. However, they did not remove Bell’s original frescos and sculptures that promote an evolutionary viewpoint. Source: Wikimedia

American Kitsch Cabazon Dinosaurs Entrance
The current ownership expresses a belief in Young Earth creationism that states dinosaurs were created 6,000 years ago, with Adam and Eve. The gift shop in the Apatosaurus’ belly sells dinosaur toys under labels that state, “Don’t swallow it! The fossil record does not support evolution.” Source: Wikimedia

Coral Castle, Homestead, Florida

American Kitsch Coral Castle
The Coral Castle in Homestead, Florida is a feat of modern engineering. The 100-pound Latvian immigrant Ed Leedskalnin mysteriously excavated, moved and erected 2.2 million pounds of coral rock. Source: Wikimedia

American Kitsch Coral Castle Garden
Legend says that he built the castle to impress a young girl who left him the day before their wedding. Leedskalnin was a secretive man who worked by lantern light and never revealed his construction secrets. Source: Virtual Tourist

American Kitsch Coral Castle Alleyway
The Castle has many incredible and functional carvings, including an accurate sundial, a Polaris telescope, a barbecue, a bathtub and a table in the shape of Florida. Source: Wikimedia

Spam Museum, Austin, Minnesota

American Kitsch Spam
Austin, Minnesota is known as SPAM City USA because Hormel, the parent company of SPAM is headquartered there. It also features a museum dedicated to the mystery meat. Source: Blogspot

American Kitsch Spam Hawaiians
The museum catalogues the history of SPAM and its part in winning World War II. SPAM is sold in 41 countries and is popular in places without reliable refrigeration because of its long-lasting shelf life. Source: Champagne Wishes

American Kitsch Spam Pig
The museum has been entertaining SPAM lovers since 2002. Wanting to improve the visitor experience, the museum closed in September 2014 for renovations and relocation. The new pork-centric museum will open in 2016. Source: Star Tribune

Jimmy Carter Peanut, Plains, Georgia

American Kitsch Peanut
Plains, Georgia is the hometown of Jimmy Carter, former president, Nobel Peace Prize winner and peanut farmer. It’s also the location of a 13-foot tall peanut featuring Jimmy Carter’s dazzling smile. Source: Mashable

American Kitsch Carter Store
The peanut statue was originally built in Indiana to honor Carter as he visited the state during his 1976 presidential campaign. It was later moved to his hometown. Source: The New York Times

American Kitsch Peanut Smile
The giant peanut sits outside of a convenience store and welcomes every visitor with its big toothy grin. Tour the rest of Plains to experience Carter’s Georgia, where he still resides. Source: Travel and Leisure

Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo, Texas

American Kitsch Cadillac Ranch
Cadillac Ranch is a sculpture and public art installation built in 1974 by the art group Ant Farm. Cadillacs from 1949 to 1963 are buried nose first in the ground, corresponding to the Great Pyramid of Giza. Source: Wikimedia

American Kitsch Cadillac Ranch Underside
Visitors have spray-painted the cars multiple hues over the years. Source: Wikimedia

American Kitsch Cadillac Ranch Muddy
Source: Scenic USA

Bishop Baraga, L'Anse, Michigan

American Kitsch Bishop
The Bishop Baraga statue towers six stories over visitors like a Catholic Doctor Octopus about to bring the knowledge of snowshoeing. Source: Sacred Heart Radio

American Kitsch Baraga Legs
Baraga was a Slovenian priest who came to Michigan to serve as a minister for the Great Lakes Indians and copper miners in 1830, and often traveled by snowshoe. Source: Wordpress

American Kitsch Baraga Sunset
Baraga was the first bishop in the Upper Peninsula and was able to minister to multi-ethnic communities because of his mastery of eight languages. The Catholic Church later deemed him venerable. Source: Blogspot

Foamhenge, Natural Bridge, Virginia

American Kitsch Foamhenge
Natural Bridge, Virginia is home to Foamhenge, a full-size foam replica of Stonehenge and its imaginative creator, Mark Cline. Cline is the owner of Enchanted Castle Studio and known for his creative exploits. Source: Amusing Planet

American Kitsch Foamhenge Detail
Foamhenge’s “stones” are placed in astronomically correct positions to correspond with the real Stonehenge. Cline considers Foamhenge to be his masterpiece. Source: Wikipedia

American Kitsch Foamhenge Merlin
Foamhenge took only 10 days build, but continues to be a favorite destination for visitors. The attraction also hosts a statue of Merlin standing on a floating stone, because why not? Source: Blogspot

Gilgal Garden, Salt Lake City, Utah

American Kitsch Gilgal
The fascinating Gilgal Garden was the brainchild of Thomas Battersby Child Jr., former bishop of the Church of Latter Day Saints, and seeks to give physical shape to his spiritual beliefs. Source: Wikimedia

American Kitsch Gilgal Sphinx
The garden consists of 12 sculptures and over 70 inscribed stones. A sphinx features the face of Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism. Source: Blogspot

American Kitsch Gilgal Joseph
After years of neglect and vandalism, he garden went through a renovation in 2000 and Utah Master Gardeners cleaned up the gardens. Source: Blogspotv

Vulcan the Iron Man, Birmingham, Alabama

American Kitsch Vulcan
Vulcan is the largest and sexiest cast iron statue in the world. This symbol of Birmingham depicts the Roman god in a backless loincloth and harkens back to the city’s iron and steel industry. The statue was built in 1904 by sculptor Giuseppe Moretti as Birmingham’s entry to the World’s Fair. Source: Birmingham Business Alliance

American Kitsch Vulcan Bottom
Following the fair, the 51-ton statue was abandoned alongside railroad tracks due to lack of city funds and no agreed plans. He was eventually moved to the fairgrounds for storage. Though Vulcan’s time at the fairgrounds was intended to be temporary; he spent thirty years there, advertising soda and pickles. Source: Eye Flare

American Kitsch Vulcan Blue
Vulcan was freed from servitude and brought back into the city after people fought to return his dignity. His park would take years to complete due to the Depression, but he would find his permanent home in 1939 on top of Red Mountain, overlooking the city. Source: CDN

Dungeons and Dragons Park, Carbondale, Illinois

American Kitsch DD Park
When we think of the suburbs, strip malls—not snoozing dragons—tend to come to mind. This is not the case for the Dungeons and Dragons Park in a Carbondale, Illinois suburb. Here, wizards fight epic battles, dragons take naps and goblins lurk in Jeremy “Boo” Rochman Memorial Park. Source: Blogspot

American Kitsch DD Park Wizards
Rochman, for whom the park is named, died in a car accident in 1993 at only 19-years old. Afterwards, his father bought the land and established a memorial park themed around his son’s favorite game, Dungeons and Dragons. Source: Blogspot

American Kitsch DD Park Dragons
The park’s jungle gym castle is designed with secret doors, hidden passageways and bridges. People are invited to explore, but no adult LARP’ing is allowed. Source: Blogspot

Still a bit fuzzy as to what exactly constitutes "kitsch"? Watch as Allee Willis, kitsch connoisseur, explains:

Susan Sims
When she's not fighting crime or cleaning the garbage disposal, you can find Susan writing about travel, science and things that go bump in the night.
Savannah Cox
Savannah Cox holds a Master's in International Affairs from The New School as well as a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, and now serves as an Assistant Professor at the University of Sheffield. Her work as a writer has also appeared on DNAinfo.
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Sims, Susan. "American Kitsch, Keeping Road Trips Interesting Through The Ages.", January 21, 2015, Accessed May 28, 2024.