We’ve already told you all about the movies you can look forward to this summer, the TV shows you can watch, and the books and comics you can read. But what if, when summer strikes, you’re itching to hit to road? We have roadside attractions, unusual museums, and significant spots from science and science fiction from all across the US and Canada for the ultimate scifi road trip.
Top image of the Forevertron (sadly in the snow) from Wikimedia Commons.
Some of these places might be on the way to other vacation spots you plan to hit this summer, or maybe you’re just looking for some new travel destinations. Here are a handful of tourist attractions, first heading from East to West along the southern United States, then heading from West to East along the northern US and Canada:
Starting way out on the East Coast, our first roadside attraction is the Giant Squid in Glover’s Harbor, Newfoundland, a life-sized model of a squid that landed in the harbor in 1878 and is the largest giant squid on record. As we travel down into New England, we can swing by the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine, a tiny but unique collection of cryptid paraphernalia and lore. Rocket enthusiasts may want to head through Warren, New Hampshire, where a genuine Redstone Rocket sits in the town square. It’s the same kind of rocket that hurled Alan Shepard, a Warren native, into space. Horror fans may prefer to drive straight down to Providence, Rhode Island, home of HP Lovecraft. Take a self-guided Lovecraftian tour through the city, hitting such hotspots as the Providence Athenæum, Brown University’s John Hay Library (which holds the largest collection of Lovecraft manuscripts as well as a few books bound in human skin), and the Lovecraft Memorial. Serious steampunks might prefer East Greenwich, Rhode Island, home of the New England Wireless and Steam Museum for a collection of bona fide steam engines and the world’s oldest surviving wireless station. Then it’s off to New York City for a trip through the American Museum of Natural History, and perhaps, if you’re a very big fan of both Nikola Tesla and modern ruins, to Shoreham, Long Island, to view the remains of Tesla’s Wardenclyffe Tower. (Sadly, you can’t tour the building, so be sure that the trip is worth the summer traffic along the Long Island Expressway.)
Giant Squid photo by Robert Hiscock.
Warminster, Pennsylvania, is home to the Johnsville Centrifuge and Science Museum, where the largest human centrifuge ever built resides. This is where the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo, astronauts trained, and where some of the early computers from the American space age still live. A little further down the road is Philadelphia, where you can visit the Mütter Museum and its collection of medical oddities, including Einstein’s brain. Cut over to Dover, Delaware, to see the Hulkish Miles the Monster at the Dover International Speedway. Then head for Silver Spring, Maryland, and the National Museum of Health and Medicine, where you can see some of their numerous anatomical specimens, as well as some gruesome exhibits on Civil War medicine — all for free. Washington, DC, also has its share of free museums, notably the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. If you want to visit some of the larger artifacts of human aeronautics and spaceflight, check out the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in nearby Chantilly, Virginia. And if you want to see spacecraft that are still in use, you can watch a private sector launch at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Wallops Island, Virginia.
If you make it to Natural Bridge, Virginia, you can visit the eponymous “Natty B,” a natural limestone formation, before seeking out one of Mark Cline’s more bizarre attractions. Sadly, Dinosaur Kingdom (where you can see statues of Confederate-controlled dinosaurs eating Union soldiers) and the Haunted Monster Museum are closed this year due to a major fire, but FoamHenge and the local ghost tours are still there for your entertainment.
Dinosaur Kingdom photo by Robert Kimberly.
In 1958, the US Air Force accidentally dropped a Mark 6 nuclear bomb on Mars Bluff, South Carolina. Although the fissible core thankfully didn’t drop with the bomb, the Mark 6 did create a large enough explosion to form a mushroom cloud and a crater. You can visit the Atomic Bomb Crater, although it’s pretty swampy, as well as see the bomb fragments at the Florence Museum of Art, Science, and History in nearby Florence.
Orlando has its draws, not least of which is the giant replica of a certain school of wizardry, but not far off is Cape Canaveral, Florida, and the Kennedy Space Center, which offers tours and even lunches with NASA astronauts. Moving from the scientific to the post-apocalyptic, stop off in Dewy Rose, Georgia, for a peek at the Georgia Guidestones, the mysterious stone tablets inscribed with messages for post-cataclysm survivors — and perhaps something more. Then head for more tactile space porn at the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, where you’ll encounter a bevy of rockets, capsules, simulators, spacesuits and other memorabilia. Be sure to wave hello to the full-scale model of the Saturn V rocket while you’re there.
If you take only one cave tour on your trip, Cascade Caverns in Boerne, Texas is a classic, and not just because Patrick Swayze visited it in Father Hood. Then drive north to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, where you can visit the Museum of Osteology and the more than 300 skeletons — modern and prehistoric, human and non-human — it has on display. (There’s a Dinosaur World in Glen Rose, TX, between Boerne and Oklahoma City, but the operators have creationist leanings. Edit: I received an email from the Executive Director of the Glen Rose Convention & Visitors Bureau, who says that all of the information at Dinosaur World is presented from a scientific perspective. I haven’t been to the park myself, but I’ve seen numerous references online criticizing Dinosaur World, including this one.)
For something a bit less scientific, point your headlights toward Roswell, New Mexico. You won’t get a tour of Area 51, but you can stay at the Little A’Le’Inn (or at least grab lunch and peruse the gift shop) and visit the International UFO Museum and Research Center for a hefty dose of alien conspiracy theory. Then take another scientific palette cleanser in Albuquerque, New Mexico at the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History. You can then travel through the northern part of Arizona and take a gander at the Grand Canyon, but if you haven’t sufficiently sated your Cold War fears, you can go south and tour the Titan Missile Museum in Sahuarita, Arizona. Las Vegas, Nevada, offers yet more atomic tourism at its Atomic Testing Museum. Tragically, you can’t then take a tour of a life-sized model of the Enterprise, because such a thing does not exist.
You’ll have to take a less than direct route if you want to wave at the Cabazon Dinosaurs along Interstate 10 in Cabazon, California (another creationist-backed dino-park, but one with enormous model dinosaurs). But you can appease the ghost of Charles Darwin with a trip to La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles. LA is also home to the Museum of Death, a stunning tribute to the macabre. Just don’t bring small children or folks who are squeamish about serial killers, funeral preparations, and taxidermy. For a more hallucinatory museum experience, there’s Culver City, California’s Museum of Jurassic Technology. It is not a place to be explained, but experienced.
On the way to the Bay Area, consider stopping off at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey, California, both for its aquatic exhibits and its appearance as the Cetacean Institute in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Then enjoy some of San Francisco’s many museums, such as the California Academy of Sciences, the Exploratorium, and the local branch of Ripley’s Believe it or Not! You can also wander around the Presidio, have your picture taken with the Yoda Fountain, and imagine that you’re attending Starfleet Academy. Perhaps you’ll also get a chance to partake in an io9 meetup.
Photo of Yoda Fountain by Lee Bennett.
Aviation buffs may want to take a detour to McMinnville, Oregon, to ogle Howard Hughes’ Spruce Goose at the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum. Between hitting bookstores in Portland, you can check out the Freakybuttrue Peculiarium, a celebration of all things, well, peculiar. Come for the alien autopsy, stay for the ice cream topped with bugs.
Seattle, Washington, is a must-visit destination, since it houses the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame inside the city’s EMP Museum. The scifi gallery is set to reopen this summer and houses an incredible collection of television and movie memorabilia, including Forrest Ackerman’s personal collection, in addition to rotating exhibits. You can also seek out the Fremont Troll before checking out Everett, Washington’s comical, flying saucer-themed public art piece, “Landing Zone.”
Next, it’s back into Canada, to the city of Vulcan, Alberta. The town has embraced the fact that it shares a name with the Star Trek aliens, building Vulcan Tourism around all things Trek. The central showpiece is a large replica of the Enterprise overlooking the highway. If you have eight hours to spare (each way), you can drive up to St. Paul, Alberta, where you’ll find the world’s first UFO Landing Pad, which has thus far proven better at attracting tourists than extraterrestrials.
Photo of the Vulcan Enterprise by Al Hunt.
Back in the US, Dickinson, North Dakota, houses the Dakota Dinosaur Museum. Unlike its creationist cousins, this museum places an emphasis on fossils and minerals. Then it’s on to St. Paul, Minnesota, for the Museum of Questionable Medical Devices, also known as the “Quackery Hall of Fame.” (Edit: Sadly, I was just informed that while the website for this museum is still up, the museum itself has closed down.) After that, you can cruise over to Poland, Wisconsin, to check out one man’s personal UFO Landing Port, or go straight to Sumpter, Wisconsin, where you’ll find Dr. Evermor’s Forevertron, the world’s largest scrap metal sculpture, which includes Thomas Edison dynamos, the decontamination chamber from the Apollo 11 spacecraft, and other technological odds and ends in its design.
Grab some grub at the Launching Pad Drive-In in Wilmington, Illinois, where you’ll dine in the shadow of the Gemini Giant, a looming statue of a spaceman. Then trek several hours south to Metropolis, Illinois, Home of Superman. Tour the Superman Museum, and have your picture taken the with Man of Steel statue. If you happen to be there June 7th-10th, you can take part in the city’s annual Superman Celebration. There are more superheroes to be found in Elkhart, Indiana, at the Hall of Heroes Museum, which boasts a collection of more than 10,000 pieces of superhero memorabilia on top of 55,000 comic books. As a bonus, it looks like the Hall of Justice from Superfriends.
In Mansfield, Ohio, you can pay homage to Elektro, the walking, talking robot built by the Westinghouse Electric Corporation in the 1930s, at his current home, the Mansfield Memorial Museum. Then we finish up back in Pennsylvania, hitting the Center for PostNatural History in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which focuses on human interventions in natural development, including the cutting edge of biotech.
This is by no means a comprehensive list, and there are plenty of educational and oddball attractions we’ve left out (plus, several swaths of the continent left unexplored). What are your favorite scientific, science fictional, and fantastical destinations? Tell us your summer scifi plans.