10 great places to go through the looking glass


By Sarah Sekula, Published in USA Today

If you think the delightfully bizarre world of the new Alice in Wonderland movie (opening today) exists only on the big screen, you’re in for a surprise. In reality, many places around the USA cater to the quirky and downright weird. Janet Friedman, founder of eccentricamerica.com, shares with Sarah Sekula for USA TODAY some spots that might have you thinking you fell down the rabbit hole, too.

The Pond Skim

Whitefish, Mont.
“Ski enthusiasts usually dread the coming of spring, but the Whitefish Mountain Resort (among others) gives them something to look forward to,” Friedman says. “Known as The Pond Skim, this is one of the wackiest competitions.” Costumed contestants ski down the slope toward an icy pond with the lofty goal of skimming 100 feet across it. Inevitably, this leads to some spectacular, tumbling crashes. The next Pond Skim is April 3. 877-754-3474; skiwhitefish.com

Lynn’s Paradise Café
There’s something irresistible about this kitschy eatery. Not only does the friendly staff serve up a mean meatloaf, but they also host some off-the-wall events, including pajama parties, a hat-hair competition, an ugly-lamp contest and a Valentine’s prom. It’s clear the staff takes the restaurant’s “Eat and Be Happy” motto seriously. 502-583-3447; lynnsparadisecafe.com

Winchester Mystery House
San Jose
“Tormented by the deaths of her husband and child, Sarah Winchester consulted a medium who convinced her that only by continuous building could she appease vengeful spirits,” Friedman says. “She embarked on a building binge that went on 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, until her death 38 years later. The bizarre result is 160 rooms, all impeccably detailed with intricately carved wood walls, floors and ceilings, along with staircases that lead nowhere, windows built into floors and chimneys that stop short of the ceilings.” 408-247-2101; winchestermysteryhouse.com

Alliance, Neb.
“A replica of Britain’s Stonehenge, this strange monument is made from 1950s and 1960s cars that are very nearly the same dimensions as the stones that make up the real thing,” Friedman says. “Planted trunk-down in the ground with capstone cars perched on top, the 38 gray-painted cars are welded together in a formation that mimics the prehistoric British version.” www.carhenge.com

The Umbrella Cover Museum
Peaks Island, Maine
This museum, a 20-minute ferry ride from Portland, celebrates the beauty of a simple object. Not surprisingly, it’s the only museum of its kind. “There are close to 700 covers from 36 countries here,” Friedman says. The covers range from a Kevlar bullet-proof creation to one made almost entirely of gum wrappers. Open by appointment.207-939-0301; umbrellacovermuseum.org

Underwater Music Festival

The House on the Rock

Spring Glen, Wis.

“Perched on the pinnacle of a rock, this improbable house is the work of an eccentric architect determined to stretch the limits of construction,” Friedman says. “The Infinity Room with its 3,264 windows juts out 218 feet over the valley below, providing experiential sensations and view. The house includes a fireplace so large that it has a stairway in the flue and a secret room hidden within.” 800-334-5275; thehouseontherock.com

Underwater Music Festival
Big Pine Key, Fla.
For some bubbly music in the key of “sea,” grab your flippers, head to Big Pine Key on July 10 and prepare to meet “Britney Spearfish.” “Offbeat, odd, and certainly original, the concert is broadcast underwater through special speakers suspended from boats,” Friedman says. “Mer-musicians ‘playing’ strange instruments swim in costume, often dressed as Elvis and Beatles impersonators.” 800-872-3722; lowerkeyschamber.com

Black Hills Maze

Rapid City, S.D.
It requires stamina to navigate this 37,000-square-foot, two-level maze with its four towers and bridges and 16 sets of stairs. Once you find your way out of the labyrinth, hop onto Highway 16 for the 20-minute scenic drive to Mount Rushmore. Open seasonally. blackhillsmaze.com

Paradise Gardens Park & Museum
Summerville, Ga.
“Both entertainment and inspiration, Paradise Gardens is a chaotic, joyful masterpiece of junk sculptures, rambling buildings and glittery mosaics,” Friedman says. The grounds are so funky, in fact, that R.E.M. filmed a video there, and U2 has used the artwork as a stage backdrop. Open seasonally. 205-587-3090; finstersparadisegardens.org

Ave Maria Grotto
Cullman, Ala.
“This beautifully landscaped park is the setting for 125 miniature reproductions of some of the world’s most historic buildings and shrines, created from cold-cream jars, glass fragments, shells, tiles, stones, marbles and concrete,” Friedman says. “Joseph Zoettla, a Benedictine monk, worked for three decades on his creations, using postcards for inspiration.” avemariagrotto.com