EXCLUSIVE | Show on the road: Top kitsch destinations
Highbrow destinations and lofty, cerebral cultural attractions are not for all of us. Sure, long days spent pouring over masterpieces might be all that some people desire to fill vacation days, but if there's a drive-thru shaped like an oversize hot dog or a quirky museum dedicated to questionable medical devices (St. Paul, Minn.), neon art (Los Angeles) or lunch boxes (Columbus, Ga.) nearby, they will always top my to-do list.
Sadly, some of my favorite attractions, such as Lexington's biblically themed mini-golf course (complete with elves and gnomes standing in for apostles), and Portland, Ore.'s 24-hour Church of Elvis, are no more, but there are still plenty of kitsch pit stops to be made. Read on for some of my favorite offbeat attractions around the country.
Pigeon Forge, Tenn.
Dolly Parton's Tennessee mountain home, a butterfly-adorned family fun park in the Smokies, offers a slew of Dolly-themed diversions, as well as rides including Beaver Creek, Piggy Parade, Rockin' Roadway and Tennessee Tornado.
2. Las Vegas, Nev.
The motherlode of kitsch, Vegas offers a veritable overload of the splashiest, trashiest, campest sights in the country, from the Liberace Museum and Elvis impersonators by the score to the astounding heights of architectural kitsch that the casinos have reached.
3. The Donut Hole,
A donut drive-thru to beat all other drive-thrus, the Donut Hole in La Puente, about 12 miles east of downtown Los Angeles, is actually a tunnel between two chocolate-covered half donuts.
4. Shady Dell RV Park
This cache of vintage aluminum travel trailers in this former copper-mining town in the Mule Mountains is the perfect place to stay during Bisbee's annual gay Pride celebrations (June; www.bisbeepride.com). Check into a 1949 Airstream, 1950 Spartanette or 1951 Royal Mansion, have yourself a little something to eat at Dot's diner, then go back to your rig and turn up the cassettes of big-band music thoughtfully provided within.
The King of Kitsch's home life is preserved in all its glittery, manically patterned shag-carpeted glory at his Memphis mansion. Join the determined flow of middle-aged Middle Americans as you trot through the ground floor and grounds.
Velvet paintings, from Yoda to Elizabeth Taylor to the Virgin of Guadelupe, as well as changing exhibitions, are on show in this purple shag-carpeted, pink-curtained and tiger-striped treasure trove of tack.
7. The Grand Guitar
Home to a guitar store, a museum and a radio station (country, of course), the world's only three-story guitar-shaped building nestles on the border of Virginia and Tennessee, three miles outside Bristol.
8. The Museum of Bad Art
Wonder at the marvels within at this Boston-area museum, the world's only cultural institution "dedicated to the collection, preservation, exhibition and celebration of bad art in all its forms."
9. Madonna Inn
San Luis Obispo, Calif.
Choose from uniquely quirky quarters at the Madonna Inn, an eclectic 109-room marvel with accommodations including the zebra-saturated Jungle Rock room or Caveman and Rock Bottom rooms, where boulders are big and Flintstones fantasies are plentiful.
10. Bob's Java Jive
Although former residents Java and Jive, a duo of caffeine-fueled drummer chimps, are no longer in residence, Tacoma's coffee-pot-shaped bar still manages to work up a ruckus, with live bands playing in the venerable venue most nights of the week.