Kitschy Roadside Tourist Attractions in the California Redwoods
Family Friendly Roadside Attractions Along the Redwood Highway
What could be more American than taking a family car trip and stopping at cheesy roadside tourist attractions?
There are plenty of these dotting the highways and byways of America, and the stretch of Northern California's Hwy 101, between the small towns of Leggett and Garberville, has perhaps more than its share of them.
Redwood Tree Exploitation
This is California's redwood country, home of the largest trees in the world.
While these kitschy roadside attractions are fun to visit, and are part of the history of the area now, it feels like there's a huge disconnect between the innate dignity of the trees and the campy tourist attractions built to take monetary advantage of them.
Most of these attractions were created in the 30s and 40s. A few of these stately giants have been subjected to perhaps the epitome of redwood exploitation, the Drive-thru Tree. As the name suggests a tunnel has been made through the trunk of the tree to allow a car to drive through it.
This would never be allowed now, with modern conservation laws, but several of these living trees are still in existence, the southernmost one, Chandelier Drive-Thru Tree is near the town of Leggett.
Chandelier Drive-Thru Tree
Leggett's Chandelier Drive-Thru Tree is a 315 foot tall coastal redwood tree located about 175 miles north of San Francisco, it sits on a 250 acre park. It has a 6'x6'9" opening in its trunk that was first carved in the 1930s.
After paying a $5 per vehicle entry fee to the park you have the the privilege of driving through the tree, you can then visit the gift shop and purchase redwood items and kitschy souvenirs, like the floaty drive-thru-tree pen. When the pen is turned on it's end a little car floats through a tiny redwood tree.
The World Famous Tree House
Also in located in Leggett along Highway 101 (AKA the Redwood Highway) is the World Famous Tree House. It stands over 250 feet high, and is a still growing redwood tree, age approximately 4000 years, that has been hollowed out to create a room inside.
A lone 50 watt bulb hangs by a wire near the top of the opening. There are a few pieces of furniture. Five people can easily stand inside. Despite the camp factor, there is something about standing inside a 4000 year old tree that still inspires a sense of awe.
If you continue about 7 miles north of Leggett on Hwy 101, you will come to The Campbell Brothers World Famous Confusion Hill. This tourist attraction has been in existence since 1949. In 2010 it was listed as a California State Point of Historical Interest.
Some of its features are the Redwood Shoe House, the World Famous Gravity House, and the 40 foot tall Totem Pole which is professed to be the "Worlds Tallest Freestanding Redwood Chainsaw Carving," it's listed in Ripley's Believe It or Not, and took more than 3 months to sculpt.
There is also a miniature train ride offered. There is a fee for the Gravity House and the train ride, the other attractions are free, and everything except the train ride is available year round.
Up until 2009 Confusion Hill was located directly on US Highway 101, but because of frequent mudslides the road was realigned in 2009. The road now bypasses Confusion hill, making it necessary to exit the Highway to get to it.
The Grandfather Tree is just south of Garberville near Richardson's Grove State Park, on the edge of the Humboldt county/Mendocino county line. This 1800-year old double-trunked redwood tree is over 265 feet tall and with a circumference of about 55 feet it is one of the largest on Hwy 101.
The gift shop offers t-shirts and snacks, redwood items and furniture, in addition to chainsaw redwood sculptures, which are carved on site. For over 30 years visitors to the Grandfather Tree have been greeted by Keith and Trudy Bowman.
One Log House
Adjacent to the Grandfather Tree is the Famous One Log House, a house created out of a single 2100-year-old Redwood log, which was hollowed out in 1946.
Inside, the one log house consists of a single room 7 feet high and 32 feet long. It is set up pretty much like a motor home with areas for cooking, dining and sleeping.
The log house has wheels on it, and it was designed to tour the country, but since 1999 it's been on display at what is expected to be its permanent home.
There is a Redwood Burl woodworking factory, where many of the gifts sold in the gift shop and some other shops in the area, are made on-site at the One-Log-House attraction. It is one of the last remaining Redwood Burl shops in the area.
Legend of Bigfoot
Just a little further up the road you'll find the Legend of Bigfoot; it is a roadside stand selling chainsaw sculptures, burl tables, and other items. The central feature is a life-sized sculpture of Bigfoot. Sorry if I spoiled the surprise.
You probably won't want to visit all of these sites, since they do become pretty similar, but try at least one of them. I'll always treasure the photos taken with my friends and family at the Drive-Thru Tree.
The Author and Friends at Chandelier Tree
More by this Author
In search of nature in the Bay Area? Marin Headlands, Mt. Tamalpais, Samuel P. Taylor Park, Point Reyes and Tomales Bay are all state and national parks within a two hour drive of San Francisco.