U.S. Route 12 runs east–west across the northern United States, from from Detroit, MI to Aberdeen, WA. Nearly 2,500 miles in length, this cross-country route has been mostly surpassed by road trippers in favor of the I-90 and I-94 highways. But just because it's less popular doesn't mean it's less worth driving! Head off the beaten path to the best attractions along Route 12.
Starting in Detroit, learn about the city's rich history at Hitsville, USA (the Motown Museum,) or at the Henry Ford Museum. You can also soak up some beauty at Belle Isle, a 900-acre island that's been turned into a gorgeous park. Stay the night at the Corktown Inn, the Hotel St. Regis, or one of the other nice hotels in Detroit.
3680 Heidelberg St., Detroit, MI, US
Since so much has been made of the state of Detroit's neighborhoods, stop by the Heidelberg Project, a massive folk art installation, to see what one man is doing about the urban decay. Many of the homes and yards here have been decorated in the strangest and most fascinating ways imaginable: records, stuffed animals, polka dots, tires, found-object sculptures and more cover the gorgeous old houses.
2138 Michigan Ave, Detroit, MI, US
What do you do when you're hungry and looking for some amazing barbecue north of the Mason-Dixon? It's not easy to find, but it exists! There's not much Slows Bar BQ doesn't do right, which is a feat, considering they offer a massive variety of sauces, from Carolina mustard-style to the lesser-known white BBQ sauce, all kinds of meats, and a ton of different kinds of sides. And beer! Naturally, this place gets pretty busy, but trust us: it's worth the wait.
84 E Ferry Street, Detroit, MI, US
Victorian mansions dot the neighborhoods of Detroit, so it makes sense that you should get to stay in one! The charm and character of the Inn on Ferry Street is in a perfect location, has clean and elegant rooms, and provides excellent service.
1329 S University Ave, Ann Arbor, MI, US
Maize and Blue Deli is a favorite among Michigan locals and visitors alike. This deli serves up the biggest sandwiches you've ever seen. Plus, they categorize their equally huge menu by your preferred type of meat (and they offer 8 different types of pastrami sandwich). Be prepared to share, or have tons leftover for the road!
1401 Daniel Rd, Jackson, MI, US
If you've got a sweet tooth, visit The Parlour in Jackson, MI. Step back in time at this retro-inspired ice cream shop that's been treating people to sweet treats since the 1940s! You can't go wrong with a classic hot fudge sundae, but if you're really hungry, they have a massive, 21-scoop behemoth that's free if you eat it in under an hour. Beware of brain freezes!
6151 Portage Rd, Portage, MI, US
Part aerospace museum, part theme park, all fun. Air Zoo in Portage, MI features ferris wheels, bi-plane rides, flight simulators, paratrooper jumps and more. It's a great experience to see their collection of historic aircraft, and kids will have so much fun they won't realize they're learning... and adults won't mind, either.
333 Broad St, St. Joseph, MI, US
Silver Beach Center and Carousel in St. Joseph MI is a beautiful, hand-carved carousel that's impressively detailed, and it has more than just your classic horses. You can ride a hippo, a tiger, a panda, or even a clown fish! Plus, right near by at the Silver Beach Center you'll find Michigan's tallest kaleidoscope, a splash fountain, and more.
2300 Jackson St 46407, Gary, IN, US
Over in Gary, Indiana you can visit the humble home where Michael Jackson and his talented siblings grew up. It's an appropriately humble tribute to the simple beginnings of the Jackson Five. You can't go inside, but there are little touches in memory of MJ, and sometimes the neighbors will come out and sell souvenirs.
19 East Ohio Street, Chicago, IL, US
Welcome to the Windy City! If you're looking for a ridiculously cool hotel in Chicago, hit up Freehand Chicago, an impossibly hip hostel (they have private rooms for a little extra, or shared rooms for an insanely reasonable price). The trendy decor and location in a 1927 building in River North will make you forget that this is actually a hostel. Plus, the bar, coffee shop, and restaurant inside attract people who aren't even staying here, and they put on the coolest events.
200 N Columbus Dr, Chicago, IL, US
You won't find any better views of Lake Michigan and of Chicago's skyline than at Millennium Park. There's always something going on, and tons of weird little nooks and crannies to explore here.
162 E Superior St, Chicago, IL, US
Chicago has tons of great food (Chicago-style hot dogs, Italian beef, etc.), but it's almost a crime if you visit without at least trying some of their signature deep-dish pies. Gino's East is one of several places famed for their Chicago-style pizza, and the old-school Italian vibes make it even more fun.
13825 Metric Rd, Roscoe, IL, US
Historic Auto Attractions in Roscoe IL features all kinds of cars (including one that belonged to Elvis), but the whole museum has a pop culture twist, so you'll also find a lock of Abe Lincoln's hair, some of Houdini's props, costumes from Gone With the Wind, and tons of other assorted oddities that will entertain pretty much anyone.
7477 Hubbard Ave, Middleton, WI, US
Over in Middleton, Wisconsin you'll find the National Mustard Museum, which has the world's largest collection of mustards! Yes, for real. As legend has it, the owner of this kitschy stop began his mustard collection to take his mind off the pain of watching the Boston Red Sox lose the 1986 World Series. Check out the strange displays, sample some mustards at the tasting bar, and pick up some condiments at the gift shop.
550 Water St, Baraboo, WI, US
Back in the day, the Ringling Brothers circus was headquartered in Baraboo, a little Wisconsin town, and the performers and animals spent their winters here. So, naturally, the town has a ton of circus-themed attractions, like the International Clown Hall of Fame, but if you want to keep it classic, head to the Circus World Museum on Water Street. Here you'll find tons of antique posters, costumes, wagons, and props, like the Human Cannonball's cannon.
14177 County Hwy Q, Sparta, WI, US
In Sparta, WI, take a slight detour to the FAST (Fiberglass Animals, Shapes, and Trademarks) Company, which is responsible for most of those giant kitschy roadside statues that make you think of classic Americana. But where do the molds go once they've been used to make the statues? Into this bizarre graveyard, where you can find eerie shapes like elephants, skulls, sharks, devils, lions, and ice cream cones, among others.
13804 7th St, Osseo, WI, US
This part of the country has strong Scandinavian ties, so enjoy the benefits of their heritage at Norske Nook in Osseo. It's adorable little bakery and gift shop. Sample goodies like sandbakkels, rosettes, lefse and other traditional treats!
1110 Carson Park Dr, Eau Claire, WI, US
Once you take Route 12 into Eau Claire, pose for pictures with the statue of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Big Blue Ox (since you're in one of the legendary giant's supposed hometowns), and learn about what it was like to be a logger like ol' Paul Bunyan at the Paul Bunyan Logging Camp Museum.
100 Yacht Club Rd W, Maplewood, MN, US
The Covington Inn is easily the coolest and most unique hotel in Minnesota. There aren't many floating B&Bs in the country, you know! The 1946 tugboat has four rooms, all adorned with nautical antiques. The views of downtown from the water are great, especially at night, and the hosts are super accommodating.
725 Vineland Pl, Minneapolis, MN, US
The 11-acre Minneapolis Sculpture Garden is run by the Walker Art Museum, and it has nearly 40 sculptures for you to see, including the iconic "Spoonbridge and Cherry." The garden is beautiful, and it's always fascinating to see art outside the gallery, so take some time to explore.
18 West 26th Street, Minneapolis, MN, US
There are tons of incredibly restaurants in Minneapolis and St. Paul; the Twin Cities are foodie destinations. Whether you visit Eat Street Social for brunch or dinner, you're sure to leave stuffed. Their offerings are imaginative, the space is cool, and the drinks are awesome, so you can't exactly go wrong with anything here!
2027 N 2nd St, Minneapolis, MN, US
Okay, who wouldn't want to at least grab one drink at Donny Dirk's Zombie Den, a psychobilly/dive bar-themed craft cocktail lounge? This place is low key but serves some really outstanding beverages. It's the kind of place you'll wish you lived nearby so that you could make it your regular hangout.
206 Broadway, Alexandria, MN, US
The Runestone Museum in Alexandria, MN is a local gem that will take you on a journey through time. From displays on Native Americans in the region, to ancient Vikings, to Norwegian immigrants, to a recreation historical village, there's a surprising amount to see and do here. Plus, you'll learn about the mysterious Kensington Runestone, a stone tablet discovered nearby in 1898 that appears to somehow date back to the 1300's. Definitely a fun stop off Route 12!
Interstate 94 and Center Street, Rothsay, MN, US
The "booming" at the World's Largest "Booming" Prairie Chicken refers to the chicken's puffed-out cheeks, a sure sign in prairie chickens that they're ready to attack. It helps to keep in mind that while prairie chickens could once be found all across the region, they're way more scarce now, so study the statue and keep your eyes peeled for these suckers, because they're not something you see every day. Plus, no road trip is complete without checking out at least one massive roadside sculpture.
202 1st Ave N, Moorhead, MN, US
There's more Scandinavian-themed fun to be had in Moorhead, MN at the Hjemkomst Center. Here, you'll find a beautiful replica of the Hopperstad Stave Church in Vic Norway, as well as a working replica of a Viking ship called the Hjemkomst, which is from the Norwegian word for "homecoming".
101 Broadway N, Fargo, ND, US
The Hotel Donaldson in Fargo, ND is a boutique hotel so cool, you might not want to leave. And with the suites all decorated by different local artists, the cozy beds, and the hip rooftop bar, you don't exactly have to!
630 1st Ave N, Fargo, ND, US
Beer halls are always a good time, and Wurst Bier Hall in Fargo is a place that does everything right, with German fusion food (Philly cheesesteak sausage, flights of bacon, poutine and more are great for soaking up the booze). They also have a massive selection of beers, of course. If you're feeling brave, go for Das Boot!
2001 44th St S, Fargo, ND, US
If you've ever seen the movie Fargo, you'll want to stop by the Fargo-Moorehead Visitor Center, not too far off Route 12, because they have the woodchipper used in the film on display, along with other memorabilia from the movie. There's even a replica of the woodchipper outside in case you stop by when they're closed, which is really super of them.
500 17th St SW, Jamestown, ND, US
North Dakota was once covered in herds of majestic buffalo, and you can still find them across the state to this day. The North American Bison has played a massively important role in the state's history and culture, though, and you can learn all about them at the Frontier Village and National Buffalo Museum in Jamestown, ND.
408 E Main Ave, Bismarck, ND, US
When you're hungry, head to the Blarney Stone Pub in Bismarck. This Irish pub really nails it: the classic food (think bangers and mash and burgers), the Guinness and huge selection of beers (go for something local, though), and the incredibly friendly atmosphere make this a fun place to grab a meal and a pint.
4480 Ft. Lincoln Road, Mandan, ND, US
Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park in Mandan is where Custer and his men rode out from right before their infamous Last Stand. This old fort has that bit of history going for it, but the park also has some really awesome recreations of the kinds of earthworks built by the Mandan tribe who also lived in the area. Plus, it's a great place to appreciate the rolling plains that make up the North Dakota landscape.
PO Box 224, Medora, ND, US
Since you're in North Dakota, why not stay in a gorgeously restored historic log cabin? The Diamond Bar Bed and Breakfast in Medora has every modern convenience, but they'll still make you a home-cooked, ranch-style breakfast, and offer "guitar-pickin and story-tellin' upon request".
300 Pacific Avenue, Medora, ND, US
Grab a bite to eat at Boots Bar and Grill. This is the best place to chat with the locals over an elk burger and a local craft brew.
315 2nd Avenue, Medora, ND, US
While you're in Medora, explore North Dakota's rugged badlands at Theodore Roosevelt National Park. It's not hard to see why Teddy Roosevelt fell in love with this part of the country and the Wild West lifestyle in general. It really is beautiful, and there's something so exhilarating about the untamed landscape.
3001 Highway 312, Worden, MT, US
Over in Worden, Montana, you can climb to the top of Pompeys Pillar National Monument and take in the outstanding views, but the natural feature probably best known for the Native American pictographs and the signatures from pioneers passing by. You can even find some famous names here- like that of William Clark, from the famed Lewis and Clark expedition.
2601 Minnesota Avenue, Billings, MT, US
Relax with a glass of wine and some charcuterie at The Fieldhouse Cafe in Billings. Or stop by for a fresh, locally-sourced dinner or a boozy brunch. There aren't many places in Montana where you can get a kale salad with quinoa dressing, but this is one of them.
Old US Hwy 10, Greycliff, MT, US
It's basically scientifically proven that prairie dogs are the cutest, and even though you can find "towns" of these incredibly social critters in some parks across the state, Greycliff Prairie Dog Town State Park is home to a notably huge colony. Stop off to watch the little guys hustle and bustle about and learn all about them.
451 E Main St, Bozeman, MT, US
Over in Bozeman, hit up The Garage Soup Shack and Mesquite Grill, a quirky little joint serves up some really awesome soups, salads, sandwiches, plus BBQ and burgers. Sit outside on the patio and enjoy the sun if the weather is nice, or take in the funky decor with a table inside.
719 N Wallace Ave, Bozeman, MT, US
When you're ready to call it a night, head to Lehrkind Mansion Bed and Breakfast. This charming Victorian home makes the perfect place for a little bed and breakfast. All the rooms have private bathrooms and period antiques, and some have decks and clawfoot tubs.
Welcome to Montana's capital! Tour the statehouse, check out the Holter Art Museum, and drink up the booming craft beer scene in this scenic city! Nice hotels in Helena include the Best Western Premier Great Northern, Jorgenson's Inn and Suites and the Sleep Senator Inn and Guesthouse.
3255 Fort Missoula Rd, Drummond, MT, US
After Helena, it's on to Drummond, MT, home to Garnet Ghost Town. This former boom town was founded during a gold rush, and remains one of the state's best preserved ghost towns. There are several cabins and other buildings to explore (imagine this: at its peak, the little town had 13 saloons!) An excellent job has been done of preserving the town without turning it into a kitschy tourist attraction. Don't forget your camera!
605 Cedar St, Wallace, ID, US
Once you reach Idaho, visit the adorable town of Wallace (used in the film "Dantes Peak"). Here you'll find the strange Oasis Bordello Museum, which is dedicated to the last cathouse in Wallace. It was open until 1988, when a raid forced the prostitutes to abandon the building, leaving it mostly intact. It was later purchased and preserved, so it looks as it did in the 1980s. The mannequins and 80s-tastic decor are pretty kitschy and the whole thing is fascinating, if not a touch bizarre.
523 Sherman Ave, Coeur d'Alene, ID, US
Locally-sourced gourmet pub grub and loads of beers are two great reasons to grab a bite at Crafted Taphouse and Kitchen in Coeur d'Alene. But you'll definitely want to stay for the turtle races. The prize for betting correctly on the race? $1 beers!
Consider staying the night here, because there are tons of hotels in Coeur d'Alene. The Roosevelt Inn, the Greenbrier Inn, and the Coeur d'Alene Resort are all worth checking out.
916 w. 2nd Ave, Spokane, WA, US
Whether you want a burger or steak, or you're in the mood for gluten-free ravioli or calf's liver with white cheddar grits, Wild Sage American Bistro in Spokane, WA is your place. The menu is totally drool-worthy... don't skip out on dessert and cocktails, too.
There are some great hotels in Spokane as well. The Davenport Hotel, Hotel Ruby and the Spokane Club Inn are some nice options!
901 W 1st Ave, Spokane, WA, US
Hotel Ruby in Spokane, WA is a funky boutique hotel with artsy vibes and swanky accommodations, plus little perks like free bike rentals, free wifi, and laundry facilities, and the location is right downtown: perfect!
Lake Shore Dr, Soap Lake, WA, US
The mineral-rich waters of Soap Lake make the water in this natural oddity feel soapy and slick, and create a white foam along the shores. The high mineral content of the water makes it super buoyant, and some think that it has healing properties, like that of a hot spring. Also, since the alkalinity of this lake is similar to that of lakes on Jupiter, scientists are studying it to test the probability of life on other planets.
137 W North Bend Way, North Bend, WA, US
"This must be where pies go when they die." If you've ever seen David Lynch's cult classic TV show "Twin Peaks," you'll recognize this little joint as the Double R Diner, a favorite of Agent Dale Cooper. It's got some memorabilia from the show... so stop by for some cherry pie and a damn fine cup of coffee.
6922 Preston Fall City Rd SE, Issaquah, WA, US
The temperate rainforests of the Pacific Northwest are notoriously stunning, so why not book a stay right in the middle of one, at Treehouse Point in Issaquah, WA? A night in one of their treehouses is literally a childhood fairytale come true, and they're so beautifully done that you won't mind walking down a trail to use the bath house.
1530 Post Aly, Seattle, WA, US
Take Route 12 into Seattle, which is loaded with incredible restaurants and things to do. You'll find quite a few of those awesome eats at Pike Place Market. However, the chowder at Pikes Place Chowder is completely addictive, and you won't get a better taste of the city's fresh seafood. Plus, nothing goes better with a cool, grey Seattle afternoon than a warm bowl of chowder.
If you're in need of a hotel in Seattle, check out the Warwick Hotel, the Ace Hotel or the Edgewater.
C St Sw, Tumwater, WA, US
There are also lots of waterfalls in the Pacific Northwest, including Snoqualmie Falls and Palouse Falls. What makes Tumwater Falls so impressive is that these falls were once the site of a hydroelectric power plant that helped power the Olympia street car, and later, were the site of a brewing company. Now it's a park where you can enjoy the lovely view of the waterfall!
Finally, you've made it to Aberdeen, WA, the "Gateway to the Olympic Peninsula." This town is best known as the birthplace of Kurt Cobain, frontman of Nirvana. In fact, some Nirvana lyrics reference parts of the town.
Route 12 may not be the most popular cross-country road trip, but it's full of offbeat roadside stops, fascinating pieces of American history, beautiful natural wonders, and delicious road food, from BBQ joints to craft beer pubs.