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Mount Rushmore. The Washington Monument. The Golden Gate Bridge. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. These are the monuments and museums and sights that family trips are planned around. It can feel like we go through life trying to tick these off the figurative list, grabbing a photo at each stop.
But as lovers of food and weirdness, we wanted to find the lesser-known statues and galleries—the wacky food-themed destinations that affirm our country's desire to play with our food (and immortalize it in statue-form). We wanted to find a bit of personality beyond the country's best restaurants or best farmers markets.
On our list you will find... the world's oldest ham! And the world's largest prairie chicken (and peanut and Holstein cow and non-stick frying pan)! And several places where all of your childhood dreams have been realized (like the Pez Memorabilia Museum, the Jelly Belly factory, and Hershey Park, which combines chocolate and amusement rides).
Stay quirky, America!
Read the list all the way through (some sites have a tad bit of commentary, others do not), or browse by category: statues and sights; world’s largest [fill in the blank]; museums, plaques, and festivals; factories and stores; and parks and amusements parks.
(Thanks to all of you who gave us tips, and to Julia Barzizza for her charming illustrations, which you'll see throughout.)
1. Spoonbridge and Cherry, Minneapolis, MN
A refreshing cocktail garnish in the summer, the 51-foot sculpture takes on a new aspect in the winter season: Topped with snow, “the cherry turns into a mouthful of ice cream sundae.”
Update: The sculpture is not on display now but will be back next summer. All the reason to start planning the trip today. (Thanks for the info, Renae!)
Plus, plenty of opportunities for photos like these:
2. Coffee Pot and Cup Water Tower, Stanton, IA
Stanton is the birthplace of Virginia Christine, the actress who was briefly famous as Folgers’ "Mrs. Olson" on television commercials and the sides of coffee cans. It was taken down in 2013, but the giant coffee pot is now displayed at ground level.
3. Randy’s Donuts, Los Angeles, CA
You can’t miss it!
4. 15-Foot Tall Fork with Pasta, Omaha, NE
5. Bronze Statue of Chef Boyardee, Omaha, NE
As a commenter on Roadside America put it, “If you've ever eaten SpaghettiOs or Mini-Ravioli. Please, please pay your respects.”
6. Jolly Green Giant Statue, Blue Earth, MN
According to Roadside America, the "company that made the statue had to invent his backside, since Green Giant had never shown it in their advertising.”
7. Restaurants shaped like chili bowls, Los Angeles, CA
None of them sell chili.
8. The Orange Show and the Beer Can House, Houston, TX
The Orange Show is a 3000-square foot, maze-like folk-art experience that "extols the virtues of his [Jefferson Davis McKissack, a Houston postal worker] favorite fruit and encourages visitors of all ages to follow his theories relating health and longevity to good nutrition, hard work and eating oranges." The Beer Can House, located across town, is adorned with approximately 50,000 beer cans—a shrine to recycling, and to drinking.
9. Fiberglass Statue Mold Yard, Sparta, WI
This is the workshop of Fiberglass Animals, Shapes, and Trademarks Corp. (a.k.a. FAST), the same company that built the Jolly Green Giant Statue. Don’t miss the giant ice cream cones!
10. Dueling Fruitcake Capitals of the World: Corsicana, TX versus Claxton, GA
11. Corn Palace, Mitchell, SD
This multi-purpose facility serves as a venue for concerts, sporting events, and other community events but, most excitedly, its exterior is decorated each year with murals and designs made from native South Dakota corn, grasses, and other grains. For more corny stops, visit the Ear of Corn Water Tower in Rochester, MN or the Field of Giant Corn Cobs in Dublin, OH.
This could be your dog!
12. Giant Artichoke, Castroville, CA
You missed the annual Castroville Artichoke Food & Wine Festival, of which Marilyn Monroe was the first honorary Artichoke Queen, but you can still visit the Giant Aritchoke Restaurant and its noteworthy statue: “Like an immense leafy alien head," writes the Roadside America staff, "it seems to grin westward towards the Pacific Ocean and the world's less bountiful regions.”
13. World's Tallest Strawberry, Strawberry Point, IA
This 15-foot tall fiberglass sculpture is not to be confused with the World's (Other) Tallest Strawberry—the top of a 130-foot water tower in Poteet, Texas.
14. World’s Largest Cherry Pie Pan, Traverse City, MI
15. World's Former Largest Cherry Pie Pan, Charlevoix, MI
Don’t worry, second runner-up: We still think you’re worth a visit!
16. World’s Largest Non-Stick Frying Pan, Pittsfield, ME
No small fry.
18. World’s Largest Peanut, Durant, OK
More accurate name: Oklahoma’s largest peanut. The peanut in Georgia is actually much larger.
19. Big Chicken, Marietta, GA
20. The Big Peach, Bruceville, IN
21. Peach Water Tower, Gaffney, SC
22. Salem Sue a.k.a. the World’s Largest Holstein Cow, New Salem, ND
23. Albert the Bull a.k.a the World’s Largest Bull, Audubon, IA
24. The World’s Largest Prairie Chicken, Rothsay, MN
25. The World’s Oldest Ham, Smithfield, VA
The ham—not the pig—was the pet of P.D. Gwaltney Jr., who worked curing meats in Smithfield and “took a particular liking to one of his hams after it survived two decades in the rafters of a packing house,” according to the Weird U.S. book. He even outfitted it in a chain and collar to protect it from theft. If you can't make it to the museum, you can still watch the live HamCam here.
26. The site of Barack and Michelle’s first kiss, Hyde Park, IL
The sign speaks for itself.
Plus, an artistic rendering:
27. Mister Ed’s Elephant Museum and Candy Emporium, Gettysburg, PA
Calls itself Gettysburg “Most Unique Attraction”—though we’re not sure what that means about the nearby battlefields.
28. Harland Sanders Cafe and Museum, Corbin, KY
It’s not the site of the first KFC franchise—that honor belongs to Murray, Utah—but Harland Sanders Café was the Colonel Sanders’s first restaurant, and the first place “Kentucky Fried Chicken” was served.
30. SPAM Museum, Austin, MN
“Please don’t eat the exhibits,” says the website. Wouldn’t if we could, Spam Museum.
31. Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History, Bardstown, KY
Maybe it’s time to finally learn the difference between whisky and whiskey.
32. McDonald’s Museum and Store #1, Des Plaines, IL
In 1985, McDonald’s Store #1 was rebuilt to look exactly like it did in 1955. The interior was closed to the public in 2008 due to repeated flooding from the nearby river, but you can still peek in through the windows before heading to the the modern McDonald’s across the street for a Happy Meal.
33. Jell-O Gallery, LeRoy, NY
You’ll learn the answers to questions like “Who eats the most Jell-O?” and “What’s the favorite flavor?”
34. National Mustard Museum, Middleton, WI
Where you can purchase a Peace-Love-Mustard t-shirt.
35. International Vinegar Museum, Roslyn, SD
36. Burnt Food Museum, Arlington, MA
To see the “Thrice Baked Potato” and other exhibits, you’ll have to schedule a 90-minute interactive event for up to 9 guests for $3500. There is also an official museum harpist.
37. Idaho Potato Museum, Blackfoot, ID
And now you can visit the Potato Station Cafe, which just opened June 30.
38. Burlingame Museum of PEZ Memorabilia, Burlingame, CA
One of every kind of PEZ dispenser ever produced! Everything you dreamed of as a child!
39. Salt & Pepper Shaker Museum, Gatlinburg, TN
20,000 sets of S&P shakers from around the world, and a huge pepper mill collection, too. So yes, it’s better than your aunt’s collectibles. And there’s a sister museum in Spain.
40. Shad Fest, Lambertville, NJ, and Shad Derby, Windsor, CT
The people love their shad! And our own editor Caroline Lange was shad royalty: “Every May, the shad swim down the Farmington River through Windsor to mate; this is cause enough to celebrate, and so for the past fifty or so years, the town throws a Shad Derby: a festival, a parade, and a beauty contest-style queen competition. Graduating high school seniors compete for the Shad Queen crown (really really really) and the winner rides through town on a float in the Shad Derby parade. (My best friend was named queen—I was voted into her court. A shining moment.)”
41. Maine Pumpkin Fest, Damariscotta, ME
Includes a hollowed-out pumpkin “boat” race.
42. Jelly Belly Factory, Fairfield, CA
Take a factory tour, then dine at the Jelly Belly Café—now open for breakfast! (While the café doesn’t seem to actual serve jelly beans, they do have bean-shaped burgers for lunch.)
44. Herr’s Snack Factory Tours, Nottingham, PA
”There's no fake machinery or actors—it's the REAL factory, the REAL workers, and the REAL process Herr's® has perfected to make their products taste REALLY great.” [Editor’s note: In third grade, I tasted a potato chip hot off the machine and it was a formative moment in my young life.]
45. Ben & Jerry’s Factory, Waterbury, VT
You will meet neither Ben nor Jerry, but you will get to sample a yet-to-be named ice cream.
46. The Cherry Hut, Beulah, MI
Opened as a roadside pie stand (more of these, please!) in 1922, it was used by the Kraker family to distribute homemade pies filled with their orchard’s fresh cherries. You can still get pie today during the summer; all year round, you can order dried cherries, jams, and salsas.
48. Mars Cheese Castle, Kenosha, WI
Sadly this is not a castle made of cheese. Still, there are lots of cheeses to try, and kringle, too.
Is that a rock or a mushroom?! The resemblance is uncanny:
50. Hershey Park, Hershey, PA
The combination of chocolate and roller coasters might be a questionable one.
51. Fruit and Spice Park, Miami-Dade County, FL
The only tropical botanical garden of its kind in the U.S., it’s home to 150 varieties of mango, 75 varieties of bananas, 70 bamboo varieties, and numerous other exotic edibles. Eat them at the tasting counter or have lunch at the Mango Cafe.
52. Dole Plantation, Wahiawa, HI
53. Shields Date Garden, Indio, CA
Prepare yourself for your walk down the garden path, which winds through the 17-acre date farm and past 23 statues that chronologize Christ’s life, by ordering the $4.99 DVD, “The Romance and Sex life of the dates.” The fifteen-minute presentation has been “modified only slightly over the years.” And thank goodness.
54. Avery Island, LA
The home of Tabasco! See how the sauce is made; take a tour of a salt mine (okay, a tour of a recreation of a salt mine); take a selfie with a giant bottle.
This article was originally published in August 2016.
What else deserves a spot on our list? Tell us in the comments! And a big thanks to everyone who helped us collect all these great places.