One of the most essentially American activities is the cross-country road trip. It’s a rite of passage for anyone with a license to drive. And in the new Netflix original film, The Fundamentals of Caring, Paul Rudd and Selena Gomez take a crazy ride through the US of A, hitting some of the wackiest destinations they could find -- like the biggest bovine (that’s a cow to the layman) in the world, and the “biggest hole in the ground.” Which got us thinking, what other cool and unexpected spots should you hit on your next road trip? We’ve designed the ultimate road-tripping guide -- divided into three categories to suit anyone’s passions, so whether you’re into kooky sites, great roadside eats, or unexpected (and underrated) amazingly beautiful spots (sorry, Grand Canyon, not you) -- we’ve got you covered. Now grab a map and start plotting your personalized road-trip adventure.
Toilet Seat Art Museum
San Antonio, Texas
The life’s work of a Texas plumber’s son, the Toilet Seat Art Museum may not be the Louvre, but it’s certainly as much fun. Despite considerable artistic talent, the mastermind behind the Toilet Seat Art Museum, Barney Smith, went into the family trade and ended up channeling his artistic talents into something far more outside-the-box than canvas or paper. He uses toilet seat covers to create unique works of art that deftly hide the, er, nastiness beneath.
With a population of just 90 as of the 2010 census, Love Valley, NC is a town dedicated to the simple things -- like, very simple. When you ride (not drive, ride: as in on horseback -- no cars allowed past the town gate, giving your monotonous asphalt adventure a nice old-time break) into the town’s main dirt road, you’re immediately transported into the old west. Yes, NC is on the East Coast, but suspend your disbelief for a second. This place is Pioneer Village except no one changes back into modern clothes at the end of the day. The town is passionately dedicated to horsemanship, with the Love Valley arena hosting riding and roping events, the local tourism industry dependent on horse-lovers from all over the country, and the Love Valley Horsemen's Association overseeing the most active equestrian culture in the US. And just in case anyone was worried about other equines getting their fair share, a (slightly less popular) Mule Association also holds celebrations alongside its more traditional partner organization.
South of the Border
It may be just south of the North Carolina border, but the theme park destination off I-95 doesn't let that geographical inconvenience keep it from pretending it's a little slice of Mexico or, at least what South Carolinians thought of Mexico 60 years ago when the place opened. In addition to an observation tower in the shape of a giant sombrero and an eternal weather forecast of "Chili today, hot tamale" the destination also has a convention center in case your road trip involves 500 buddies, and an amusement area called Pedroland with carnival rides and games. There's also plenty of Mexican food spread across six restaurants, making South of The Border the most elaborate roadside attraction in the South.
Myrtle, The World's Largest Desert Tortoise
Joshua Tree, California
She may only be a sculpture, but Myrtle has become an integral part of the beautiful Joshua Tree landscape, gazing out into the desert with ancient eyes and offering a poetic parallel for the slow, steady formation of the Seussian rocks that make the American Southwest famous. Thought up by a local man, Willis Keys, and his wife in 1957 as a parade float called Myrtle the Turtle, the sculpture eventually grew in scope, quality and magnitude until it became California's finest addition to the "World's Biggest ________" category of road-trip must-sees.
America's Car Museum Route 66 Exhibit
A trip down the historic stretches of Route 66 that still exist in their original form is just about the most American road trip activity there is. But while there may have been a time where Route 66 was the best place for Americans on the go to get their kicks, the road was largely consumed by the Eisenhower highway system in the 1950s. But the spirit of Route 66 lives on at America's Car Museum in Tacoma, where the "Road to Riches" is celebrated in all its hot rodding, rubber burning glory. In addition to its regular collection celebrating the golden age of American motoring, when gasoline was plentiful and cars only needed two miles to the gallon, 2016 has seen the museum open up a new exhibit specifically celebrating the road that once linked Chicago to the Pacific Ocean.
Iowa 80, the world's largest truck stop food court
Anyone who has ever taken an extended road trip knows the almost-mystical hold the truck stop food court can have over the weary traveler. Foodstuffs that you’d normally pass up without a second thought suddenly become a Michelin Star event when you’re hopped up on coffee and coming up on hour 13 in your push to Vegas. But at Iowa 80, the delicious chow -- you can choose between Wendy's, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, The Iowa 80 Kitchen, Blimpy, Dairy Queen and Orange Julius, and Caribou Coffee (all open 24 hours) -- is just the beginning. They also offer a full auto shop, mechanics, a car wash, a barber shop, chiropractic services (!), a museum of antique trucks, a dentist (!!), a gym (!!!), and much, much more.
Cookin' From Scratch
A two-decade-old burger and comfort food joint widely considered to be among the best grubstops in rural America, Cookin’ From Scratch gives old-fashioned favorites like crispy pan fried chicken the same simple Americana treatment they’ve been using since opening, when a pound of lard only got you through Tuesday. To wit: if you've got the fortitude, you can take the Cookin from Scratch Challenge and try to put away a 66oz version of their incredible cheeseburger in 66 minutes -- oh, and the whole thing takes place on Route 66, just for consistency.
Gladys Knight and Ron Winans' Chicken and Waffles
The Fundamentals of Caring will really get you in the mood for some waffles, as the hero boy (Craig Roberts) -- who inspires the trip with Paul Rudd’s character -- eats them constantly. We’re talking every meal. So, when a hunkering for some good old fashioned waffles hits you hard, take the midnight train to Georgia. Once you get there, stop at Gladys Knight and Ron Winans' Chicken and Waffles and let the crispy, doughy, buttery perfection waft over you. They’ve got sweet, they’ve got savory, they’ve got it all, you could literally eat these puppies for every meal if you wanted. Because you’d rather live in these waffles’ world than live without them in yours.
Hitting the drive-in during a road trip is as American as fireworks are on the Fourth of July. But unfortunately drive-ins are becoming a rarer and rarer thing to find. Dude’s is one of the last drive-ins still carrying the torch of old-fashioned “I Like Ike”-era burger/shake/French fry/frankfurter classicism. You even roll up and honk your horn for service just like your mother raised you to never, ever do, and someone will come running, ready to ply you with a classic road trip meal without you ever removing your butt from the driver's seat.
The Big Texan Steak Ranch
Opened in 1960 by a man named Robert Lee, The Big Texan is the kind of southern staple whose quality there is simply no arguing. In addition to offering the most delicious steaks money can buy, The Big Texan also offers the opportunity to collect your meal for free -- if you can handle their challenge. According to their web site, you’ve got an hour to finish “Shrimp Cocktail, Baked Potato, Salad, Roll, Butter, and of course, a 72 oz. Steak.” Many have tried, and some have even finished, but the real heroes are the ones who manage to keep the unholy meal down.
Wind Cave National Park
Nothing against the Dakotas, but after driving through the vast prairies of the upper Midwest for an extended period of time, a change of scenery could mean the difference between sanity and the true, frightening delirium only an extended period behind the wheel can bring. Good thing South Dakota has a hidden underworld beneath its endless plains. Named for the barometric winds that constantly assail its entrance, Wind Cave’s beauty may just keep you from losing your mind. Hiking through the underground complex of stalagmites and stalactites makes it clear that those aboveground making their way to Mount Rushmore are missing the real treasures South Dakota has to offer.
Buffalo National River
America’s first official national river is one of the only remaining undammed flows in the contiguous 48 states, has campgrounds built by FDR’s Civilian Conservation Corps, and offers a unique look at frontier life in the early 1800s when Arkansas was considered part of the untamed American West. You can indulge your pioneer fantasies here like few other places in the country, minus all the forging new wagon wheels with your bare hands. Fishing, camping, and hiking all take on a more historic dimension knowing that these forests have been stringently unchanged since before the U.S. existed.
Isle Royale National Park
Located in the middle of Lake Superior -- which probably means it used to be used for bootlegging Canadian whisky, so bring your shovel and booze-detector -- Isle Royale is home to the Passage Island Lighthouse, which was manned for 100 years by some of the most interesting characters in the history of maritime tall-tales. Few places in the country offer such a chance to indulge your inner recluse and imagine a life as a haggard, half-crazed lighthouse keeper -- or is that just us?
The Bingham Canyon Mine, also known as the Kennecott Copper Mine
A.K.A “the world’s deepest pit,” as referred to in The Fundamentals of Caring, is the largest man-made excavation in the world; this giant hole in the ground is an interesting example of how humans can do anything if they put their minds to collecting precious metals. Originally dug to reach copper deposits, the mine eventually grew to become the single most impressive hole ever dug, acting as an inspiration to curious 6-year-olds everywhere and proving once and for all that it’s very, very difficult to make it all the way to China by digging. This site serves as the climax to the film, and when the road-trippers hit this final destination, they are inspired by its true and unexpected beauty, which proves that sometimes it’s the underrated places that can truly inspire (again, sorry Grand Canyon).
Dry Tortugas National Park
Once home to a prison colony where conspirators in the plot to assassinate President Lincoln were held, the Dry Tortugas are the leeward most of the Florida Keys and the most pristine, untouched islands left in the lower 48. It’s also still home to the fort that once housed the prisoners, and makes the most logical place to end your road trip -- since there’s no place south left to actually go after the Tortugas. While Key West thinks of itself as the farthest of the Florida Keys from the mainland, the Tortugas play host to an untouched wilderness, taken back by the sea and wildlife that humans have pushed out of the other Keys.