The Quirkiest City in Every State
If traveling more across America is on your bucket list, these are the offbeat treasures you need to see in every state.
Quirkiness Is All Around
Ask anyone to name the quirkiest city in America and you’ll probably hear New York City, New Orleans, Key West, or even Austin, Texas or Portland, Oregon—as the latter two have “weird” in their town mottos. But quirkiness is in the “eye of the beholder,” and examples can be found in some places you’d never guess. Scroll on to learn about the range of charming oddities that can make a town seem “quirky.” Then come back to discover how these 8 U.S. towns got their quirky nicknames.
New Orleans may be the hottest Mardi Gras destination now, but the first-ever Mardi Gras celebration held in America actually took place in Mobile, Alabama. This is a big part of the city’s rich history, which you can see at the Mobile Carnival Museum. Preserved floats, crowns, and extravagant costumes help make Mobile a place with a ton of character. There are many other places to celebrate Mardi Gras besides New Orleans, you know!
Alaska: North Pole
Yes, as in the place where Santa Clause lives! In this Alaska town, it is Christmas 24/7. The town used to be named Davis, but the name was legally changed in 1952 to reflect the whimsy and joy of the Christmas stories that kids of all ages cherish. If you want to be wowed, check out these photos of Alaska you’ve probably never seen before.
Bisbee’s present has very little to do with its past. Once a copper mining town, Bisbee today is a cultural enclave, teeming with quirky and imaginative artists and artwork. For a reminder of its past, you can visit the many historical sites and museums, or even book yourself a spooky ghost tour.
California: Venice Beach
Let’s be honest, there are hundreds of places in California that can be described as quirky: Hollywood, San Francisco, Laguna Beach, and more. But no one will deny Venice Beach tops the list. Venice Beach is home to a world-famous boardwalk dominated by skateboarders, graffiti artists, and performers, and nothing is too strange for this locale. Beaches do tend to be the best spot for people watching; don’t miss 12 more best beaches in the United States.
Widely known for the prevalence of cannabis, this city plays host to the only known temple to to the intoxicating hemp plant, a.k.a. the International Church of Cannabis. Open since April 20, 2017 (the pot smoker’s holiday, 4/20), this establishment treats the plant as a holy sacrament. Church-goers follow a unique religion known as “Elevationism,” and claim that use of cannabis elevates one to higher self-understanding.
Connecticut: New Haven
New Haven is known for being home to one of the country’s (and the world’s) best universities: Yale. But while the school is chock-full of promising brains walking around, there are actually a lot of dead brains on campus too: A historic collection of brains can be found at the Cushing Brain Collection. Specializing in diseased, tumor-infested brains, the collection hosts hundreds of specimens in a two-floor house below Yale’s medical school library. If you’re an aficionado of the macabre, read on for 10 more utterly bizarre collections.
Milton is a beloved location for one very important reason: beer! Dogfish Head Brewery is located here—one of the most popular IPAs in the country. What makes the locale extra quirky is the giant, futuristic-looking sculpture called the Steampunk Treehouse. Now discover the best craft beer from every state.
Florida: Key West
You’d be hard-pressed to find quirkier than the Fantasy Fest in Key West, where your imagination is the only limitation. The ten-day extravaganza features off-the-wall performers, costumes, music, and more. Key West is definitely not your typical town and this is not your typical parade. Discover the wildest parties from around the world.
ATL may be best known as a sports town, but it’s no stranger to whimsy. Case in point: Tiny Doors Atlanta, an art project placing tiny decorative doors in random outdoor spaces all over Atlanta. The wee doors when placed on a rock or a tree look like portals to a fairyland. The project has sparked a community movement of copycat artists, turning the installation into a bit of a cute, quirky public scavenger hunt.
Honolulu is a tourist destination with an incredible history, culture… and some little-known gems. Built in 1922 but fallen into disrepair by the 1980s, The Hawaii Theatre, once known as the Pride of the Pacific, was restored and reopened to the public in 1996 and is now a successful performing arts center. Located in Honolulu’s Chinatown, the theater has put on everything from vaudeville to musicals to silent films. If you’re a theater buff, don’t miss these 10 hidden lessons popular musicals have taught us.
There are plenty of bicycle races and courses throughout the world, but the Tour de Fat in Boise, Idaho was one of a kind. It wasn’t just a bunch of seriously athletic people wearing spandex on bikes pedaling like their lives depended on it; this was a festival replete with fun and booze provided by the New Belgium Brewery. After 16 years, the festival ended, but is being replaced by the Boise Goathead Fest, which promises all the same fun—only bigger. Admission is free, but proceeds from beer and merchandise will benefit “all cycling nonprofits wanting to get involved,” say organizers.
Chicago may be best known for gangsters, windy weather, and deep-dish pizza, but did you know the city holds a three-foot statue dedicated to… a turd? That’s right, the lovely “Sh*t Fountain, is the brainchild of renowned sculptor, Jerzy Kenar, and is dedicated to the city’s many dogs. If this public monument strikes your funny bone, don’t miss the strangest roadside attractions in every state.
Indiana: West Lafayette
The Company of Fifers and Drummers has hosted the Feast of the Hunter’s Moon for over half a century. The marching musicians and local craftsmen gather every year at Fort Ouiatenon to honor the founding of the fort, a fur-trading outpost, more than 300 years ago with a re-creation of the annual gathering of the French and Native Americans.
Iowa: Des Moines
Art has a impact on a city’s culture and reputation: In Des Moines, there is John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park. The vast green 4.4 acre landscape is dotted with installations from 25 of the world’s most celebrated artists—sculptures range from creepy to modern to downright funky. Find out the hidden gems in every state.
Not expecting to find more than just aircrafts in an aviation museum? The Kansas Aviation Museum is home to many ghosts, too. The museum even offers paranormal tours. If ghost’s aren’t quirky enough for you, Wichita’s growing steampunk subculture has given rise to installations like the Steampunk Grassroots Art of Gary Pendergrass, steampunk conventions, and other events that definitely bear a look-see.
While Salt Lake City is likely not a locale most people would associate with KFC, it is home of the first-ever Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise. The Colonel, however, hailed from Louisville, where the size and splendor of the man’s gravestone may give some hint of how the locals feel about him. An official monument to the man, the Colonel Sanders Statue is located in nearby Corbin.
Louisiana: New Orleans
Mardi Gras is more than just a one-time event for the people of New Orleans, who structure their year and their businesses around Fat Tuesday. Whether it’s costume-making, songwriting, or fundraising, residents of this city are always working to make sure that the festival they’re known (and loved) for is nothing less than spectacular. Here’s what native New Orleanians really think about Mardi Gras.
There are so many cool things to see in Bangor that make it a must-visit if you’re ever in the area. Stephen King’s house with the gothic, bat-adorned front gate is a fun first stop for horror lovers. There’s also Wild Blueberry Land, a farm that pays tribute to all things blueberry, featuring a geodesic (blueberry-shaped) bakery/gift shop and a 31-foot-tall, 3,700-pound statue of the great Paul Bunyan.
They don’t call it “Charm City” for nothing. When you’re not dining out or hopping on a boat in the harbor, check out unusual sights off the beaten path, such as Edgar Allan Poe’s grave and memorial, the National Cryptologic Museum, and an inexplicable, full-size Easter Island head.
Three guesses for what makes this place quirky! Salem is infamous for the historic witch trials, and the town is like one big monument to that history. Halloween here is absolutely nuts, but the city is worth a visit any time of year. Don’t miss the 10 things you need to stop believing about the Salem Witch Trials.
Detroit is about more than just cars. There are some pretty wacky places to check out in this city, and many revolve around art. Every October there’s a must-see event called Theatre Bizarre that features everything from flame-swallowers to burlesque dancers. And the Heidelberg Project and Hamtramck Disneyland are two other peculiar folk art installations. Don’t miss the enormous fist sculpture dedicated to boxer Joe Louis—it offers a good selfie opportunity.
The Weisman Art Museum in Minneapolis is an amazing sight to behold: Before even entering the museum, the eye is confronted with what looks like a huge Jenga made of metal. And that’s not the only zany museum worth checking out in Minneapolis: The House of Balls is bizarre, fun, and truly unique “funhouse of found art.” You will see sculptures of practically anything, made out of practically everything, from robots to sculptures crafted from clothespins.
Vicksburg has a lot of history and local color that makes it unique amongst the other Mississippi cities. The U.S.S. Cairo, a former gunboat that is now a museum, was the first ship in the world to ever be sunk by an electrically detonated torpedo. After years of speculation, searching, and hard work, the remains of the Cairo were brought to the surface, refurbished, and reassembled. History buffs will enjoy it; read on to learn about the most gorgeous shipwrecks around the world. Meanwhile, art lovers might prefer to head over to Margaret’s Grocery, a former country story that has become one big, flowery, and bright art installation.
Missouri: Kansas City
Kansas City has a lot of museums dedicated to subjects that no one would ever think a museum would be dedicated. Leila’s Hair Museum houses an eccentric collection of Victorian hair wreaths, as well as objects made entirely out of hair (jewelry and tokens of love and remembrance.). And if this is just the right flavor of weird for you, don’t miss the strangest museum in your state.
Billings is home to some amazing history, including this evidence of Lewis and Clark’s epic journey across America that’s carved into Pompey’s Pillar. Should you wish to walk on the stranger side, however, a visit to the two-headed calf at the Yellowstone County Museum is called for.
Some statues in our country are dedicated to presidents and war heroes, and then there are others—like this one in Omaha—that are dedicated to people like Chef Boyardee, who you may not even realize was a real person. If you’re in Omaha, you may want to stop for lunch at the Alpine Inn, a top-rated fried-chicken restaurant known for serving up leftovers nightly to hordes of lucky raccoons.
Nevada: Las Vegas
Las Vegas is almost synonymous with everything outrageous and quirky. From costumed performers and lounge acts to gamblers and casinos, Vegas is live theater for people watchers. If you’re not in the mood for gambling, there are plenty of other must-see Las Vegas attractions.
New Hampshire: Lincoln
Theories, reports, and conspiracies about alien abductions may be commonplace now, but the first account of a “close encounter” came from a Portsmouth, New Hampshire, couple. In 1961 Betty and Barney Hill were driving through Lincoln on the way back from a trip to Canada when they claimed they were abducted by otherworldly beings. The two became instantly famous as a result of the media frenzy that their story evoked. Read on to hear details of their story, one of the most chilling UFO sightings ever recorded.
New Jersey: Camden
Poetry lovers will know that Camden, New Jersey is home to Walt Whitman’s house and his tomb. It’s home to some quirky museums, too—Soup Tureen Museum, anyone? It’s also home to the best aquarium in the state, where kids love to pet starfish and small sharks up close, and even watch giant hippos swim.
New Mexico: Roswell
It was a supposed alien aircraft crash in 1947 that continues to fuel conspiracy theories to this day, despite the “official” declaration that it was just a U.S. Army balloon. Now Roswell is home to everything “aliens,” from themed fast-food restaurants to the International UFO Museum and Research Center. The Roswell alien landing is just one of the 12 UFO myths scientists wish you would stop believing.
New York: New York
New York City may be considered the mecca of weirdness to some. It certainly can seem as if every person in “The Big Apple” has their own unique style, culture, and opinions—and are not afraid to broadcast it—making this one of the most colorful, boisterous, and idiosyncratic destinations in the world. Don’t confine yourself to the sights and sounds of Times Square and Broadway next time you visit; be sure to check out these hidden gems of NYC.
North Carolina: Cameron
Modern artist David Ellis has had his work exhibited all over the world, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. But while he may be kind of a big deal in the art world, he hasn’t forgotten where he came from: Cameron, North Carolina. Ellis and a group of his friends return to Cameron annually to liven the landscape by painting murals on the sides of old barns and abandoned farm equipment.
North Dakota: Bismarck
Bismarck is known for its many sculptures, such as The Pioneer Family, several Lewis and Clark and Sacagawea statues, and “Reflections”—a sculpture of an eagle cradling a giant shiny ball. The most interesting sculpture, though, may be “Thunderbirds,” depicting a myth that persists through the Dakotas: A giant bird that is believed by Native Americans to be able to cause thunderstorms and lightning.
Known for farming and its meat production industry, Cincinnati was once so overrun with pigs that it was lovingly nicknamed “Porkopolis.” The theme of pigs—especially flying ones—has stuck. There are statues dedicated to flying pigs all over the city, as well as an annual Flying Pig Marathon. If pigs aren’t your thing, the city is also home to the country’s largest sign museum, a cool and quirky stop worth visiting.
Oklahoma: Oklahoma City
The Factory Obscura artist collective of artists sought the help of The Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne to launch an immersive audiovisual installation at The Womb in Oklahoma City. The building is covered head to toe in psychedelic colors and visual concepts, bringing a splash of oddity to the city.
Philadelphia could have easily made this list, however visiting Lancaster, Pennsylvania—a.k.a. Amish Country—is like stepping back in time to an earlier era before the automobile. Visitors to Lancaster go there to learn about Amish culture, admire their farms and woodworking shops, and partake in delicious homemade jams and pies for sale. But Be sure to leave the local gentry out of any photos; the Amish religion prohibits photography.
Rhode Island: Providence
Gothic horror writer H.P. Lovecraft is beloved for horror stories like “The Rats in the Walls” featuring the monumental sci-fi character, Cthulhu. The author called Rhode Island home and is buried there, so you’ll find many tributes to him all throughout the city of Providence. One of the locations Lovecraft fans flock to is the Fleur-de-Lys building, the strange brown and bright yellow house pictured in this photograph of Thomas Street. It serves as the home of one of the writer’s best-known characters, Anthony Wilcox, who first appeared in The Call of Cthulhu.
South Dakota: Deadwood
Not surprisingly, the town aptly named Deadwood is known for creepy, and sometimes criminal, landmarks. The major attraction here is Mount Moriah Cemetery, home to the graves of many notorious outlaws including Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok. Other historic and popular sites in Deadwood make the town an epicenter of paranormal activity, such as the Adams House and the Bullock Hotel. Visit more of America’s most haunted places.
Who knew that Gatlinburg, Tennessee would be known for its knickknacks, of all things. That’s right, there is a Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum here that houses about 20,000 different kinds of salt and pepper shakers. Even more bizarre: This Tennessee town has a sister museum of salt and pepper shakers located in Spain.
They say everything is bigger in Texas, and the city of Austin sure does feature several ginormous sculptures: a giant spider, giant couch potatoes, and a giant Olmec head, to name a few. There’s also The Cathedral of Junk, a towering structure made of industrial pipes, rusty wheels, and old clocks. Note: The slogan “Keep Austin Weird” started here; Portland is a spin off.
Utah: Spanish Fork
When you think of Utah you probably think of Mormons, however, in Spanish Fork you will find a lovely Krishna Temple named Sri Sri Radha, whose architecture was inspired by the Rajasthani in India. A practicing house of worship, the temple offers tours and yoga classes and hosts seven festivals every year. The most dramatic of these is Holi or Festival of Colors that’s a must-see in spring. The temple also rents llamas to hikers and campers.
Richmond is one of the oldest cities in America, but if you’re not a history buff, there are plenty of other things to see and do here. Don’t miss the giant milk bottles, a controversial mural featuring a beaver and a girl outside an adult bookstore—it’s worth a selfie. Richmond also boasts one of the ugliest buildings in the world, inspired by a baked potato.
Seattle is known for its music scene, most notably as the birthplace of Sub Pop Records and the humble beginnings of the famous grunge band Nirvana. That’s not all that Seattle has to offer, however. What would this city be without its Giant Shoe Museum or its beloved Toe Truck (yes, toe) for instance? Thats weird enough to be included in this list of weird museums you never knew existed.
Sparta may be best known for a large field filled with strange fiberglass sculptures. Well, they’re not exactly sculptures; you might say they’re refuse. An organization called the FAST Corporation (Fiberglass Animals, Shapes and Trademarks) manufactures giant fiberglass statues and when they’re finished they toss the molds into an open nearby field. Anyone driving past the location without knowing the story behind it must get an odd jolt.
Thermopolis is all about hot springs and Bison. Come to take a soak in the naturally occurring hot springs that have a temperature of 104 degrees Fahrenheit. The water is rich in healing minerals. But over time, some of those mineral deposits have built up, resulting in giant mineral mounds like the one pictured here. Now that you know the weirdest places in every state, read on to discover the most charming places in America.