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. When you are looking for something free to do this weekend with the kids, scroll through this list and plan your local road trip full of Bay Area roadside attractions from Sebastopol down to Santa Cruz!
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Right next to the Ferry Building you'll find the totally awesome, giant bow and arrow known as Cupid's Span. This 60-foot sculpture sits on a grassy spot that's fun for both picnics and Bay Bridge photo opps. Bonus: right next door is the home of SFFD's fire boats.
Location: The Embarcadero & Folsom Street, San Francisco
Take a picture of the fam in front of this pagoda-topped southern entrance to San Francisco’s iconic Chinatown. Then check out this story for more things to do in this oh-so-fun area of the city.
Location: Bush St. & Grant St., San Francisco
Last Doggie Diner Head
The hot dog and hamburger chain closed in 1986, but this seven-foot-tall fiberglass grinning dachshund mascot was moved to Sloat Avenue and now it’s a city landmark.
Location: Sloat Blvd. & 45th Ave., San Francisco
The Fish House
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.
Location: 2747 Matthews St, Berkeley
One person’s trash is another person’s treasure at this landfill-cum-anarchic artist hub full of fun sculptures and graffitt\ied decay. There’s a large wooden sculpture of a man riding a dragon, the concrete (and be careful — possibly unstable) Mad Mark’s Castle and much more.
Location: Foot of Buchanan St. (next to San Francisco Bay), Albany
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Jelly Belly Factory
Giant portrait of Ronald Reagan made out of jelly beans? Check. Jelly bean-shaped pizzas and burgers? Check. Bags of discounted Belly Flops jelly beans in odd shapes and sizes? Check check and check. The visitor center which includes the cafe, retail store and chocolate shoppe recently reopened to visitors, but there are no factory tours at this time.
Location: 1 Jelly Belly Lane, Fairfield
Statue of Bosco the Dog Mayor
Who’s a good mayor? Who’s a good mayor? Black lab Bosco is the only dog to ever serve as an American mayor. His term in the hamlet of Sunol lasted from 1981 until 1994 when Bosco crossed the rainbow bridge to eat t-bone steaks, liver treats and homework forever.
Location: 11925 Main St., Sunol
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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 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.
Location: Bell Plastics, 2020 National Ave., Hayward
You can visit two other Bay Area muffler men at the following locations:
Riverbend Resort, 11820 River Rd, Forestville
Babe’s & Lightning Muffler, 808 The Alameda, San Jose
Google Android Lawn Sculptures
These fun sculptures of sweet treats represent the code names of Google’s different Android operating system versions, from Cupcake and Donut to Jelly Bean, Kit Kat and beyond. Unfortunately the sculptures aren’t in the best of shape now, but it’s still fun to poke your head through the honeycomb for a picture.
Location: 1981 Landings Dr., Mountain View
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Facebook Thumbs Up Sign
Go give yourself a thumbs up and take a picture by this iconic social media sign at the entrance to Facebook’s Menlo Park headquarters.
Location: Bayfront Expressway & Willow Rd., Menlo Park
The Mystery Spot
Discover this quirky attraction hidden in the redwood trees of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Are you *sure* you’re taller than your kids? That might not be the case at The Mystery Spot. Don’t forget a classic yellow and black bumper sticker when you leave. Public tours are currently being offered following COVID-19 guidelines, but there are some narrow areas where keeping six feet of social distance may prove difficult so be sure to wear your masks.
Location: 465 Mystery Spot Rd., Santa Cruz
Bigfoot Discovery Museum
This museum (currently closed due to COVID-19) wears the love of its namesake furry cryptid proudly. There are Bigfoot videos, foot casts, a local sighting map, and more. Admission is free but a $2–5 donation is requested. There’s a nine-foot-tall Bigfoot sculpture in the back for a can’t-miss photo op.
Hours: 11 a.m.-6 p.m., Wed.-Mon. for main museum.
Location: 5497 Highway 9, Felton
Winchester Mystery House
Visit this 19th century architectural marvel owned by Sarah Winchester, where a staircase leads to a ceiling and a door leads to a 15-foot drop to an outdoor garden. Did a psychic really instruct her to never stop building to help evade the spirits of those killed by her family’s Winchester rifles? Take the tour and find out. (Spoiler alert: The answer is . . . maybe?). The Sarah Winchester Garden Tour is available Wednesdays-Sundays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. every week until further notice.
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Monopoly in the Park
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.
Location: Discovery Meadow, Downtown San Jose, Ca
Golden Gate Bridge Jumping Spot
You may be tempted to park at the Golden Gate Bridge Vista View Point next to Highway 101 to get your official Golden Gate Bridge photo (which is still a nice spot so don’t let us stop you). However, if you journey down the road along the Marin Headlands you can get that ideal woodsy shot. (Bonus! It’s less crowded.) For a little more effort (and your photographer lying low to the ground) you can get a picture of you jumping over the Golden Gate Bridge that everyone will think you Photoshopped even though you didn’t.
Location: Lots of great viewpoints along Conzelman Rd. in the Marin Headlands, Sausalito
Yoda and Indiana Jones Statues in Imagination Park
George Lucas donated Imagination Park along with these life-size statues of Yoda and Indiana Jones to commemorate the town where he began creating both movies. Tip: Nearby at 331 San Anselmo Ave. is where Lucas and his team created the entire Star Wars soundtrack.
Location: 541 San Anselmo Ave., San Anselmo
Recycled Art Characters by Patrick Amiot & Brigitte Laurent
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. At night many of the art pieces are lit up, which makes them even more arresting.
Location: Florence Street, Sebastopol
—Kathleen Mikulis & Garrick Ramirez