10 Great Places To Go Through The Looking Glass

03/09/2010 - San Jose, Ca

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, 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;

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;

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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;


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."

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;

The House on the Rock

Spring Green, 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 views. The house includes a fireplace so large that it has a stairway in the flue and a secret room hidden within." 800-334-5275;

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;

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.

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;

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."

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Wander through 110 of the 160 rooms of this Victorian mansion, designed and built by the Winchester Rifle heiress. Tour the estate daily. Keep up to date on all the happenings, worldly and otherwise, only with the exclusive "13th Hour" newsletter.

The Winchester Mystery House contains 160 rooms, 10,000 windows, 950 doors, 52 skylights, 47 fireplaces, 40 bedrooms, 40 staircases, 17 chimneys, 3 elevators, 2 ballrooms and 2 basements.