What’s a road trip without a giant ball of string? You don’t have to cross the country to witness kitschy roadside Americana. The Bay Area hides a few treasures of its own, including a house designed after a sea creature and a museum dedicated to Bigfoot. Flip through the following photo guide and start planning your next off-ramp family photo op!
Recycled Art Characters – Sebastopol
It’s impossible to drive through Sebastopol without spying the cartoonish, metal sculptures that line its streets. There’s a moped-riding moose, a hybrid car that’s half-truck and half-shark, and a retro spaceship rocketed by a robot that could easily be the cousin of Futurama’s Bender. That’s just a tiny sampling of the massive collection of recycled artwork by self-styled folk artists Patrick Amiot and Brigitte Laurent that is displayed all over town. Patrick sculpts the scrap and Brigitte paints the pieces. Although their outdoor sculpture garden closed earlier this year, the biggest concentration of their work can still be found embellishing downtown’s Florence Ave. Map out your visit with the virtual tour posted on their site. Or purchase a colorful fold-out guide or calendar and you’ll support local public schools in the process.
Florence Ave. (between Healdsburg Ave. and Wilton Ave.), Sebastopol
Photo credit: dirvish
The Fish House – Berkeley
Despite Berkeley’s reputation for eccentricities, this structure looks more suited for Bikini Bottom, the underwater hometown of Spongebob. Built in 1995 and designed after an indestructible sea-dwelling microorganism called the tardigrade, Ojo del Sol (which means Eye of the Sun, but Fish House works just fine for most locals) was built by architect Eugene Tsui who specializes in biomimicry, the practice of applying the study of nature to human issues. Tsui claims the house is one of the world’s safest dwellings. Tsui also designs cool futuristic apparel that would be right at home in the closet of any Star Trek villain.
2747 Matthews St, Berkeley, Ca
Photo credit: Anna Fox
Monopoly in the Park – San Jose
Here’s a chance for San Franciscans to raise the rents in Silicon Valley. Built for a 1992 San Francisco Landscape and Design Show, the monumental Monopoly board is now a permanent exhibit in San Jose’s Discovery Meadow. Guinness World Records acknowledges the 930-square-foot board as the largest permanent outdoor version in the world (the qualifiers hint at a much larger board in Qatar). The designers made fun nods to local landmarks by subtitling the board’s addresses. For example, Boardwalk is also known as the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. And mind your ethics or you’ll end up in the Santa Clara Department of Correction. Bring a group and rent the space: you’ll roll jumbo dice while wearing giant thimble, wheelbarrow and Scottie dog hats.
After you’ve foreclosed on your family, make it up to them with a trip to the adjacent Children’s Discovery Museum where kids call the shots at tactile exhibits like a vintage firetruck, simulated pizza kitchen and the ever-popular water play area.
Discovery Meadow, Downtown San Jose, Ca
Photo credit: Garrick Ramirez
Bigfoot Discovery Museum – Felton
Hidden away in a forested corner of Santa Cruz county, the Bigfoot Discovery Museum assembles all things sasquatch under one inquisitive roof. It’s the passion-project of Michael Rugg who’s been collecting artifacts related to the elusive creature since the early ’50′s. Squint your eyes and rub your chin while you examine plaster-molds of oversized footprints and a wall-sized map filled with colored pins that mark recent bigfoot sightings. Kids will love the exhaustive collection of fun pop culture references that include Harry and The Hendersons, The Six Million Dollar Man and the fuzzy white Yeti from the stop-animation classic, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Take home a t-shirt sporting an original drawing by Rugg (like a simpering Bigfoot with bandana and shades straddling an Easy Rider chopper) and support the cause.
Afterwards, head across the way to the centuries-old groves of Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park to look for the big guy yourself.
5497 Highway 9, Felton, Ca
Big Don; photo credit: Bell Plastics
Big Mike & Big Don: The Muffler Men of Hayward
Muffler men are the smirking, larger-than-life roadside barkers that were manufactured en masse in the 1960s and 70s by SoCal-based International Fiberglass. Numerous characters were created, but they were all based on one mold. Over time, they have been passed down by successive businesses and co-opted to suit any setting. But wherever they go, they earn the collective affection of their community. A Hayward hometown boy, Big Mike started out hawking car washes by brandishing a giant scrub brush. Big Don began life as The Missouri Cowboy from Boonesville, MO. Both were recently bought and lovingly restored by Bruce Kennedy of Bell Plastics. Bruce encourages visitors to stop by and snap a pic in front of the two benevolent giants. You can even take home a bobblehead replica of each character as a souvenir (the advantage of owning a plastics company). Come in October when Big Mike gets in the Halloween spirit by donning a black cloak, hatchet and demon skull.
Bell Plastics, 2020 National Ave., Hayward, Ca
You can visit two other Bay Area muffler men at the following locations:
11820 River Rd, Forestville, Ca
Babe’s & Lightning Muffler
808 The Alameda, San Jose, Ca
Do you have any unique roadside oddities to add to our list? Share the love by sharing your picks with us below!
— Garrick Ramirez