Midwest Interstate Attractions Worth a Stop
Your summer road trip doesn’t need to be all ground and pound. Skip the roadside fast food for great mom-and-pops. Stretch your legs at little-known attractions, and snap selfies alongside quirky sites. The 33 stops listed here are each a short hop off one of the Midwest’s main east-west passages: interstates 70, 80 and 90. Pick your favorites, and turn your gotta-get-there drive into a journey you won’t forget.
- Photo courtesy of Roxie Yonkey,
I-70: The Big Easel Project
An 80-foot-tall easel displays a massive Van Gogh in Goodland, Kansas. (Get it? Sunflowers? Sunflower State?) After staring up at the massive masterpiece, relax your neck by gazing down at
a slice of pie at On the Bricks Cafe. Exit 19. Big Easel: seegoodland.com; On the Bricks Cafe: (785) 890-6630
- Photo courtesy of Kansas Barbed Wire Museum.
I-70: Kansas Barbed Wire Museum
Wanna know the mundane secret behind the Wild West? Guns didn’t tame the range; barbed wire did. Learn about this prickly game changer in La Crosse, Kansas, 26 miles south of the interstate. Exit 159. (785) 222-9900; rushcounty.org
I-70: Garden of Eden
Adam and Eve’s story plays out in some of the 200 concrete statues at the fascinatingly strange Garden of Eden. Be sure to tour sculptor S.P. Dinsmoor’s limestone “log” cabin. 16 miles north from the interstate in Lucas, Kansas. Exit 206. (785) 525-6395; garden-of-eden-lucas-kansas.com
I-70: Eisenhower Presidential Library Museum and Boyhood Home
Get ready to like Ike! Self-guided tours cover a 22-acre museum campus in Abilene, Kansas, 2 miles south of the interstate. See Ike’s boyhood home and the D-Day planning table, then pay your respects at his grave. Exit 275. (785) 263-6700; eisenhower.archives.gov
I-70: The Candy Factory
If you believe in everything in moderation, this Columbia, Missouri, stop is not for you. All things chocolate—truffles, strawberries, pizza—fill the downstairs shop. An upstairs tour shows you where the treats are made. Exit 126. (573) 443-8222; thecandyfactory.biz
- Photo courtesy of Chesterfield Arts.
I-70: The Awakening
Stand face-to-exceptionally-large-face with a giant at this Chesterfield, Missouri, sculpture installation. Outsized hands, arms, feet and gasping face emerge from the grounds of the Chesterfield Arts center, 14 miles off the interstate. Exit 232. (636) 519-1955; chesterfieldarts.org
- Photo courtesy of Collinsville Convention and Visitors Bureau.
I-70: The World’s Largest Catsup Bottle
Without ever leaving the car, you can check “catsup bottle” off your list of the World’s Largest Things To See. The Collinsville, Illinois, water tower overlooks Route 159 five minutes south of the interstate. Exit 11. catsupbottle.com
I-70: Kaskaskia fire breathing dragon
It’s exactly as advertised: a giant metal dragon, with short arms and a long neck, stands in the middle of a field. To unleash his fiery breath, feed him a special coin, purchased for $1 at nearby Kaskaskia Supply. Just 1.3 miles off the interstate in Vandalia, Illinois. Exit 61. (618) 283-9700; kaskaskiadragon.com
- Photo courtesy of Effingham Tourism.
I-70: Cross at the Crossroads
More than 180 tons of steel went into the 198-foot Cross at the Crossroads. It was the world’s largest until a cross in Spain stretched a little closer to Heaven. 2 miles from the interstate in Effingham, Illinois. Exit 159. (217) 347-2846; crossusa.org
I-70: Paulee Restaurant
Their motto: Eat and Get Out. You’d feel the same if your diner only fit 10 seats. Grab a quick bacon ’n’ eggs plate 3 miles off the interstate in Richmond, Indiana, then get back on the road. Exit 151. (765) 488-0312
I-70: Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams
Creative flavors like Wildberry-Lavender and Bangkok Peanut join classics like The Milkiest Chocolate in the World in Columbus, Ohio. The 1.5-mile drive to North Market is small sacrifice for such sweet returns. Exit 100. (614) 228-9960; jenis.com
I-80: Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historical Park
Picture yourself in the Wild West, walking where Buffalo Bill Cody did at the showman’s memorabilia-packed estate in North Platte, Nebraska. Exit 177. (308) 535-8035; visitnorthplatte.com
I-80: The Archway
Think your long drive is tough? Stop here for some pioneer perspective. The museum-in-a-bridge over I-80 in Kearney, Nebraska, explores the history of travel along the Great Platte River Road (think Oregon Trail). Suddenly, that climate-controlled car seems pretty comfy. Exit 275. (308) 237-1000; archway.org
OK, it’s fast food. But the chain started in Lincoln, Nebraska. The pockets of fresh bread filled with beef, onions and cabbage tend to be a love/hate thing. We love ‘em—and they make eating while driving a breeze. It’s 1.5 miles off I-80. Exit 397. (402) 476-1189; runza.com
I-80: Holy Family Shrine
Prairie serenity flows through 40-foot glass walls at the peaceful Holy Family Shrine, 1 mile from the interstate in Gretna, Nebraska. Exit 432. (402) 332-4565; holyfamilyshrineproject.com
I-80: Albert the Bull and Larsen's Pub
Albert the Bull would produce 6-foot T-bone steaks—if the 30-foot-tall beast wasn’t made of concrete. 16 miles north of the interstate in Audubon, Iowa. Exit 60. (712) 563-3780; auduboniowa.org
Signs along I-80 promote Elk Horn, Iowa’s windmill. But where’s the sign for the voted-best-in-Iowa pork tenderloin sandwich? Larsen’s Pub’s ode to pork is tender, juicy and served on a tiny bun. It’s worth the 7-mile drive. Exit 54. (712) 764-4052
- Photo courtesy of Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum.
I-80: Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum
Get your history fix right off the interstate at this birthplace, museum and burial site in West Branch, Iowa. Explore the post-WWI European hunger crisis and the Great Depression through Hoover’s experience. Exit 254. (319) 643-5301; hoover.archives.gov
I-80: Letty Mae’s Tea Room
Girliest. Stop. Ever. Gingham menus? Yep. Farmhouse antiques? Check. Whoopie pies made using Grandma’s recipes? You bet. Family members run this Morris, Illinois, cafe 2.5 miles south of the interstate Exit 112. (815) 416-1370
I-80: Albanese Confectionery
Gummi bears are born inside a life-size gingerbread house in Merrillville, Indiana. Get your fatigue-fighting sugar fix in the gift shop (gummies, chocolates and trail mix, oh my) before driving 10 miles north back to the interstate. Exit 11. (219) 947-3070; albaneseconfectionery.com
- Photo courtesy of Seneca Caverns.
I-80: Seneca Caverns
The self-appointed “Caviest Cave in America” waits 12 miles south of the interstate in Bellevue, Ohio. Hour-long guided tours show off fossils, stalactites, bats and the Ole Mist’ry River. Bring sturdy shoes and a light coat. Exit 110. (419) 483-6711; senecacavernsohio.com
I-80: Hot Dog Shoppe
Yes, we think it’s worth driving 16 miles round-trip for a hot dog. In town-that-time-forgot Warren, Ohio, stop in the diner capped with a spinning hotdog. A Super Dog (with chili, cheese and kraut) isn’t fancy, but it sure is tasty. Exit 209. (330) 395-7057
I-90: Reptile Gardens
All manner of cold-blooded beasts live at this reptile zoo, including venomous black mamba snakes and komodo dragons. Too scaly for your taste? Stroll the snake-free botanical gardens or catch a bird show. It’s 11 miles from the interstate in Rapid City, South Dakota. Exit 61. (800) 335-0275; reptilegardens.com
- Photo courtesy of South Dakota Tourism.
I-90: Wall Drug Store
You’ve got a bad case of road fatigue, and the only prescription is more kitsch. This drugstore along the interstate in Wall, South Dakota, delivers old-school fun. Take your photo aboard a jackalope, buy bobblehead bison, pan for false gold, and refuel with apple pie and 5-cent coffee. Exit 110. (605) 279-2175; walldrug.com
- Photo courtesy of South Dakota Department of Tourism.
I-90: South Dakota’s Original 1880 Town
Get a sarsaparilla in the saloon of this mostly authentic re-creation of a frontier town. Why “mostly”? Well, there’s the resident camel for one thing… Still, this Murdo, South Dakota, attraction just off the interstate is a road-trip must. Exit 170. (605) 344-2236; 1880town.com
- Photo courtesy of Blue Earth Chamber of Commerce.
I-90: Jolly Green Giant Statue
Deep in the heart of the Southern Lakes area, there lives a giant. A Jolly Green Giant. Stand at his size-78 foot in Blue Earth, Minnesota, home to Green Giant veggies. He’s a half-mile off the interstate. Exit 119. (507) 526-2916; blueearthchamber.com
I-90: Spam Museum
NOTE: Since this story was published, the Spam Museum has closed; it is being relocated to downtown Austin and will reopen in 2016. A wall of 3,500 cans of Spam welcomes visitors to the Musee d’Hamsay … er, the Spam Museum. 1 mile from the interstate in Austin, Minnesota. Exit 178. (800) 588-7726; spam.com/spam-101
- Photo courtesy of Lakeview Drive Inn.
I-90: Lakeview Drive Inn
Swing into this 1938 drive-in along Lake Winona in Winona, Minnesota, for juicy burgers (beef, bison or elk) and frosty mugs of root beer. Classic-car shows and carhops keep the retro spirit alive. Exit 252. (507) 454-3723; lakeviewdriveinn.com
- Photos courtesy of DeForest, Wisconsin, Tourism.
I-90: Andy’s Pink Elephant and Sissy the Cow
You’ll get two for one at this exit in DeForest, Wisconsin. Turn west to a towering pink elephant wearing hipster black glasses. Go east to giant Sissy the Cow, who greets visitors to Ehlenbach’s Cheese Chalet. Two goofy photo ops off one exit. How can you resist? Exit 126.
- Lego skyline of Chicago. Photo courtesy of Legoland Discovery Center.
I-90: Legoland Discovery Center
If you’re traveling with a brick-obsessed kid, you can’t skip Legoland, 4 miles from the interstate in Schaumburg, Illinois. The 4-D Lego movie and projects in the building room will fire them up, but a romp in the massive playground should take the edge off before you drive on. Follow signs to I-290 east, then take exit 1A toward Woodfield Road. (847) 592-9700; legolanddiscoverycenter.com
I-90: Indiana Dunes State Park
Watch Lake Michigan waves from the top of a 200-foot sand dune at Indiana Dunes State Park, 8 miles from the interstate in Chesterton, Indiana. Exit 31. (219) 926-1952; dnr.in.gov
- Photo courtesy of Toledo Museum of Art.
I-90: Toledo Museum of Art
In Toledo, Ohio, grab a sassy MyGuide brochure for a light-hearted museum tour (we like “Date Night”). And don’t miss the Glass Pavilion, with more than 5,000 glassworks, before driving 7 miles back to the interstate. Exit 64. (419) 255-8000; toledomuseum.org
- Photo courtesy of Turner Entertainment.
I-90: A Christmas Story House and Museum
A major award. A bar of Lifebouy soap. A pink bunny suit. It’s all here, and guided tours leave ample time for exploring, photo taking and playing with the beloved Red Ryder BB Gun. (It’s a prop, so you won’t … well, you know.) In Cleveland, Ohio, 1 mile from the interstate. Exit 170. (216) 298-4919; achristmasstoryhouse.com