59 Jaw-Dropping Roadside Attractions: South

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Our top reasons-from giant mazes to outdoor churches to the world's largest ball of twine-to pull off the side of the road and visit a while

SOUTH

Alabama

Ave Maria Grotto

Built by a Benedictine monk named Joseph Zoettl, the Ave Maria Grotto is four acres of biblical history, with more than 125 miniature replicas of holy sites, such as St. Peter's Basilica and the city of Jerusalem. They're not perfectly set to scale--Brother Joe eyeballed his designs--but historians and architects have marveled at his accuracy just the same. 1600 St. Bernard Dr., Cullman, 256/734-4110, avemariagrotto.com, $5, seniors $4.50, kids 6-12 $3.50.

Arkansas

Cotham's Mercantile and Restaurant

Before it opened as a restaurant in 1984, Cotham's had served (sometimes simultaneously) as a general store, jail, and commissary for nearly 70 years. The Hubcap burgers--big enough to feed four--were a favorite of then governor Bill Clinton; as its website says, Cotham's is "Where the Elite Meet to Eat!!" in Scott, about 15 miles east of Little Rock. FYI: It's pronounced "Cottum's." 5301 Hwy. 161, 501/961-9284, cothams.com, Hubcap burger $8.

Florida

Coral Castle

After his fiancee, Agnes Scuffs, canceled their wedding the day before the ceremony, Ed Leedskalnin began constructing a titanic tribute to his lost love. For over 28 years, Ed dug up nearly 1,100 tons of coral, then placed and carved each block by hand to create Coral Castle. The castle, about 30 miles south of Miami, features a nine-ton swinging gate and the Great Obelisk, 25 feet tall and weighing 28 tons. Agnes never visited. 28655 S. Dixie Hwy., Homestead, 305/248-6345, coralcastle.com, $9.75, seniors $6.50, kids 7-12 $5.

Drive-In Christian Church

The congregation at Daytona Beach's Drive-In Christian Church has been pulling up for prayer since 1953. Offering two services on Sundays (8:30 a.m. and 10 a.m.), the Christian church--it was converted from an old drive-in movie theater--has more than 1,300 members and encourages visitors to join in its unique outdoor worship. Pull up, grab a Communion wafer at the gate, then tune in to 88.5 on your FM dial. No worries about drinking and driving--this church uses juice instead of wine. 3140 S. Atlantic Ave., 386/767-8761, driveinchurch.net, free.

Georgia

Georgia Guidestones

No one knows who erected the 19-foot-tall granite Guidestones--picture the Ten Commandments inscribed on Stonehenge--which list instructions for the preservation of mankind in 12 languages, including Sanskrit and Swahili. Here's one: "Avoid petty laws and useless officials." The folks at the Elbert County Chamber of Commerce say that the best way to find them is to drive on Highway 77, between Elberton and Hartwell, and look for the lady's house that resembles a spaceship. The Guidestones are across the street. Elbert County Chamber of Commerce, 706/283-5651, elbertga.com, free.

Kentucky

Penn's Store

In 1992, America's oldest country store, family owned since 1850, got its first bathroom: an outhouse (before that it just had "plenty of trees"). Now, every fall the store hosts the Great Outhouse Blowout, a festival with music, food, and outhouse races (in 2004, Oct. 2). Contestants head to Gravel Switch--50 miles southwest of Lexington--and race human-powered dragsters, some made to resemble that lovable lavatory. 257 Penn's Store Rd., 859/332-7715, pennsstore.com.

Louisiana

Bayou Pierre Alligator Park

With gator sausage and kebabs in the food court and gator wallets and boots in the gift shop, you'd think the Bayou Pierre Alligator Park was killing off its main attraction. Not so. All of the park's hundreds of gators are for viewing only (the others come from local farms). Watch these thousand-pounders wrestle over chicken parts, or hold a baby gator in your arms for a Cajun-style photo opportunity. It's 75 miles southeast of Shreveport, off Highway 1. 380 Old Bayou Pierre Rd., Natchitoches, 877/354-7001, alligatorshow.com, $6.50, kids $4.75. Baby gator head: $9.99.

Mississippi

The Crossroads

According to the song "Crossroads Blues," by legendary bluesman Robert Johnson, this is the spot where he sold his soul to the devil in exchange for his skills as a guitar virtuoso. At the intersection of Highways 161 and 49 in the town of Clarksdale, the spot is marked with a guitar-shaped sign. Clarksdale Chamber of Commerce, 662/627-7337.

North Carolina

Furnitureland South

The world's largest highboy--an 85-foot-tall dresser with three foot-wide gold-leaf handles--stands in front of the world's largest home-furnishings showroom. Built in 1999, it towers over its rival (the world's largest bureau, also in High Point) by more than 45 feet. 5635 Riverdale Dr., 336/841-4328, furniturelandsouth.com, free.

South Carolina

South of the Border

With its 200-foot-tall Sombrero Tower and smiling mascot, Pedro, this monument to Mexican kitsch has attracted road-trippers since 1949. What started as a small beer stand has expanded into an amalgamation including 15 shops, an amusement park (called Pedroland), six restaurants, campgrounds, and a hotel. I-95 at Hwy. 301, Hamer, 843/774-2411, pedroland.com.

Tennessee

The Parthenon

In 1897, to commemorate 100 years of statehood, Tennessee built a full-scale replica of the Parthenon just outside downtown Nashville, in Centennial Park. It houses the city's art museum, as well as plaster casts of the Elgin marbles (the real ones, which date from around 440 b.c., are in the British Museum). Like the original in Athens, the Parthenon focuses on a 42-foot statue of the goddess Athena--by all estimates she's wearing size-177 sandals. 2600 West End Ave., 615/862-8431, parthenon.org, $4, seniors and kids $2.50.

Virginia

Route 11 Potato Chip Factory

The Route 11 Potato Chip Factory prepares, cooks, and bags all 13 varieties of its chips by hand. The Chesapeake crab chips are a regional favorite: They're flavored with the same salty, spicy blend fishermen use to season their Chesapeake Blues. 7815 Main St., Middletown, 800/294-7783, rt11.com, 11-oz. bag $4.

West Virginia

Prabhupada's Palace of Gold

Billed as America's Taj Mahal--don't tell Trump--Prabhupada's Palace of Gold, in Moundsville, was constructed by monastic volunteers to be the home of spiritual leader Srila Prabhupada. When he died before its completion, the gilded palace became a pilgrimage center and tourist attraction. The elaborately decorated rooms have marble and onyx floors, crystal chandeliers, and silk tapestries. Palace Rd. Exit off Hwy. 250, 304/843-1812, palaceofgold.com, suggested donation $6, kids $3.

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