Roadside Attractions & Side Trips

Jul 29, 2020

Many of us have pretty much cancelled our annual Summer Vacation this year.  Travel has become difficult and somewhat risky with quarantines and health guidelines.  I know in our family travel is off the table for the foreseeable future.

Even though travel is off the table for now that doesn’t mean we’re not thinking about it.  Discussions of where we should go and what we should do have become regular topics during family dinners.  We’re not really sure of the when and where, but I think we’re pretty sure about the how.

In our situation, we live in Hawaii, a plan ride is very much part of our itinerary, but we’re going to be limiting the length our our plane time; in short a 24 hour travel time to Europe in beyond is out of the questions; actually the 10-11 hour plane ride to the East Coast is sidelined as well.  So that pretty much limits us to a 5 hour ride to somewhere on the West Coast.  But once we get there, where should be go and what should we do?

I think many families like ours will opt for a road trip when they finally feel confident enough to travel.  Road trips make travel less risky, specially if you don’t have to ride a plane before you begin.  I mean presumably you’d be safe and healthy in your car with people who are more than likely are related or close friends.  You can limit exposure to crowds and remain out doors for the most part, of course you may have to stay in hotels, but you can opt to rent a vacation rental or even camp outdoors if you prefer.  So yes a road trip sounds like a great idea during these uncertain times.

As I mentioned we’ve pretty much decided on the how, in this case a road trip, just not the when or the where.  But here are some road trip ideas and some side trips as well.  I’m a big fan of side trips, I call them the “scenic route”, some pass by roadside attractions and others are worth a few hours or a day of your time.  Some of these places are old family favorites while others are on the maybe list. Whatever it is they’re great places to stop for a bit and stretch your legs, snap some photos, and maybe have a snack.   Hopefully you’ll find something that might capture your interest!


Many folks will head to National and State Parks and Arizona is home to many including The Grand Canyon.  But there are many side trips you can take on your way to or from one of the parks.

If you’re in the Williams area, that’s one of the gateways to the Grand Canyon, then Bearzona Wild Life Park is a good side trip.  It’s an hour drive South of  the Grand Canyon.  You can drive thru the park in your own car then take a stroll through the walkways to get up close and personal with some of the park’s critters.  There’s also a petting area called the barnyard where friendly goats and more are around to pet.

In the Tucson area where you’ll find Saguaro National Park, a park definitely worth visiting, you can spend a few hours in Old Tucson. It’s a movie studio/theme park where you can be entertained with a wild west show, pan for gold, or check out an old mine.

And don’t forget to grab some grub.  Old Tucson has several restaurants to choose from!

Further south beyond Tucson you’ll find many interesting small towns.  There’s Artsy Bisbee where you’ll find a copper mine and more.  They also have one of the best Mexican restaurants in the area!

If you haven’t had your fill of the Wild West then head over to Tombstone.  This historic little town in Cochise County is filled with buildings that are replicas of the original building built when the mines were operational, the only original building there is the supposedly haunted Bird Cage Theater.  In Tombstone you can watch re-enactments of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral and a daring bank robbery.  You can stroll down the street and visit the old courthouse, the Epitaph Newspaper building where original newsprint is on display, or you can drop by the Crystal Palace for drinks and a snack.  You can also take in a ghost show at the Bird Cage, believe me it will raise the hairs on the back of your neck!

Not far from Tombstone is Kartchner Caverns State Park.  It’s located just a few miles from the town of Benson.  If you’ve never taken a cave tour this one’s pretty impressive!

I’ve taken this tour several times and each time was amazing!


Another state with lots of National and State Parks is California; Death Valley NP, Yosemite NP, and Sequoia NP just to name a few.

You’ll find many road side attractions and side trips in this great state.  One of our favorites that’s sure to thrill the kids are the Cabazon Dinosaurs.  

Located right of I10 by Palm Springs this roadside attraction can’t be missed, literally!  It’s all about dinosaurs!  You can choose to visit the museum for the price of the admission fee, shop in the gift shop located inside the huge dino, or just hang out by the parking lot and snap some pictures.

In the San Jose area a trip to the Winchester Mystery House is a great way to spend a few hours.

The house belonged to Sarah Winchester the widow of William Winchester and heiress to the Winchester Arms fortune.  She moved from Connecticut to San Jose after the death of her husband.  She bought this farm house and began construction of rooms, fireplaces, stairways, and more until she ended up building the world’s most unusual and sprawling mansion!

Halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles along scenic Highway 1 is the Heart Castle in San Simeon.

Built by publishing tycoon William Randolph Heart between 1919 and 1947 the Hearst Castle is now a state park and national landmark.  You can tour its gardens, rooms, and artwork.


Located in Colorado Springs The Garden of the Gods is one of my favorite parks.

Here you can stroll thru the paved walkway and wonder at the awesome rock formations and check out the wildlife.  More adventurous folks can get rock climbing permits or take a hike on the wilder tails.  It’s an awesome place to spend an afternoon.

Take a scenic trail ride in Canon City.  The Royal Gorge Route Railroad will take you on thru the Colorado Rockies.

It passes under the Royal Gorge Bridge and passes thru amazing scenery.  We had lunch in the Vista Dome car.  It was definitely memorable and definitely worth the side trip.


Here’s another cave tour this one in Colorado.  The Cave of the Winds Mountain Park is definitely worth the side trip!

Along with the cave tour, which is pretty incredible, there are several attractions including a zipline, rock wall, and the hair raising Terror-Dactyl the ride that launches riders off the cliff edge and into the canyon at 100 miles an hour!


If you find yourself in Georgia head on down to Atlanta, there’s lots to see and do in this wonderful city.

One of the kids’ favorites is The World of Coke. Here you’ll learn the history of this world famous beverage.  There’s a museum, shows, activities, and best of all you get to try beverages from around the world.

The World of Coke is right by the Georgia Aquarium and close to the Centennial Olympic Park and the CNN building.  All in the heart of Downtown Atlanta.

Located in Duluth Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta is the Southeastern Railway Museum.

Train lovers big and small will love this museum.  You can even take a ride on one of their trains.  You’ll find all kinds of trains in the outdoor and indoor museums.

Definitely worth the side trip if you’re into trains!



There’s a lot of interesting things to do in Massachusetts.  Most folks will visit the Boston & Cambridge areas.

But if you find yourself in the area during the fall there are a couple of places that are worth a visit.  Salem, Massachusetts is one of them, specially in October.

Salem is infamous for it’s 17th. Century Witch Trials.  There’s a whole village that’s pretty much dedicated to everything “witchy”.  You can visit the Witch House which is the only remaining house dating back to that time.  There’s also the Salem Witch Museum and the House of Seven Gables the mansion made famous by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel of the same name.  We visited one summer and found the whole village delightful!

Another area you can visit is Plymouth, yes its harbor is the location of Plymouth Rock where the first settlers of the New World reportedly disembarked their ship called the Mayflower.

Plymouth is also  home to several Cranberry Bogs.  Some companies offer bog tours and harvest tours in the fall when the fruit is harvested.

New Mexico

If you’re heading to or passing thru New Mexico you may want to take a side trip to Roswell.

The town is all about aliens of course ever since the 1947 Roswell incident where an alien craft was said to  have crashed in some farmland.  I guess ever since then it’s been a Mecca for UFO believers and skeptics alike.  So a visit to Roswell wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the UFO Museum and possible a UFO tour.

But there’s more to Roswell than its ties to UFOs.  The historic downtown features a variety of architectural styles, there’s a local winery, a contemporary museum, and more.  The town is surely worth a day or two of your time. Perhaps a short break from your trip to the famous Carlsbad Caverns NP?

New York

New York is a wonderful state with lots of beautiful places.  Sure the city is spectacular and has something for everyone, but it’s not all about the 5 boroughs.

If you find yourself in New York take some time to head out of the city and explore upstate, trust me you won’t regret it!  One of my favorite towns is Tarrytown in the Hudson Valley.  Actually any town along the Hudson River is gorgeous, but I’m just a bit biased having gone to school in Tarrytown and Dobbs Ferry.

There are several historic mansions one can visit along the Husdon River.  One of my favorites is Sunnyside, the home of the American writer Washington Irving who penned The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. (Think the headless horseman!).  I can’t count how many times I’ve visited this mansion, I’ve been doing it since I was in grade school!

Another awesome site in New York is Ausable Chasm.  It’s located in the Adirondacks on the way to Lake Champlain.  You can admire the historic steel bridge that spans the chasm along Route 9.

If you have time you can spend a day or so to enjoy some fun activities including hiking and tubing down the river.   There are quite a few adventures to be  had at Ausable Chasm!


South Dakota

A road trip to or thru South Dakota would not be complete without a stop at Wall Drug.  The billboards along the highway leading you to this roadside attraction makes a stop imperative.  I mean who wouldn’t want free Ice Water!

The place has a dinosaur, a jackalope (you’ll have to visit to find out what that is), buffalo burgers, and fudge.  The candy shop has the best Praline Fudge in the world.  I make my husband stop at Wall Drug just for the fudge!

Of course South Dakota has lots of beautiful parks and monuments.  Our favorites are Custer State Park, The Badlands NP, and of course Mt. Rushmore NM.  But if you have the time you might consider a side trip to the Corn Palace in Mitchell.

The building is decorated yearly with corn and grains.  It hosts concerts and other events.


Texas is a huge state. Driving across the state from east to west takes at least 24 hours.  But don’t speed thru the state, there’s lots to see and do in the Lone Star State.

If you’re in the Houston area you can take a trip to the Johnson Space Center.  Lots of fun and educational things to do there!

Not too far from the Johnson Space Center is the Kemah Boardwalk it’s on the way to Galveston.  The boardwalk is filled with lots of family fun.  From rides and restaurants and shops you’ll find it all there.  It’s a great place to spend and afternoon and evening!

In North East Houston along FM 1960 just of I59 you’ll find the old town of Humble.  (pronounced “Umble” no “H”).  There’s an old downtown, Lake Houston, and the San Jacinto River in the area.  You’ll also find Old Mac Donald’s Farm!

This little roadside attraction has been around for years.  We used to take our kids there when they were young, specially in the fall when they hosted a pumpkin patch.  These days we take the grandkids and they love it.  There’ a train ride, a petting zoo, and pony rides, in short a kids’ wonderland!

One of my favorite Texas city’s is San Antonio.  Of course most folks visit the Alamo a fort that played an important role in Texas History and where many heroic men including Davy Crockett died during the infamous battle.  But on the way to San Antonio where you’ll also find the Riverwalk you can stop by the Natural Bridge Caverns.

This was the very first caverns I visited and it was definitely worth the trip!

Another side trip you can make, specially if you’re a shopaholic, is to the San Marco Premium Outlet in San Marco, Texas.  It’s one of my favorite outlet malls!


Most people go to Wyoming to visit Yellowstone NP.  If you can only visit one US National Park then in my opinion Yellowstone is the one to visit.  There are some many natural wonders and wildlife in this park it’s hard to list them all.  But most of the world’s geysers are located within this park as well as other geothermal features.  There are buffalo, elk, deer, wolves, and bears roaming the roads in and around the park.  You can fish, hike, swim, and even go boating in this park.  The adventures are endless.  I’ve been to Yellowstone several times and can’t ever get enough!

But on the way to Yellowstone there are other places to stop and see.  If you’re coming from South Dakota then a stop a Devil’s Tower NM is worth a stop.  It’s the natural butte that rises 1267 feet above the Belle Fourche River in Northeaster Wyoming.  It was made popular by the sci-fi movie Close Encounters by Steven Spielberg.

A stop in Cody is always fun.  Considered one of the gateways to Yellowstone Cody is home to the Buffalo Bill Center of the West.  Here you’ll learn about the famous showman’s life as well as the culture, traditions, and history of the Plains Indians.

There are many other interesting things to do in and see around Cody including daily gunfights and an Old Trail Town that has a collection of frontier era buildings and historical graves and memorials.

These are just a few roadside attractions and side trips you may enjoy during a summer road trip.  But remember every state has it’s special places, too many to name.  Best way to explore is to get off the beaten path and see where some of those local roads lead to, you might find something that will delight you!


















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