What’s the point of a vacation if you can’t bring back a bumper sticker or a taxidermy rattlesnake? You’ll find classic keepsakes at souvenir emporiums, many of which date to the early days of automobile travel. “They’re still a few of them that hang on and thrive, and they’ve been out there for 50 years and more,” says Brian Butko, author of books on roadside Americana, including Greetings From the Lincoln Highway Centennial Edition (Stackpole Books). He shares favorite places with Larry Bleiberg for USA TODAY.
This spot rose to fame with the construction of Mount Rushmore, luring in vacationers with the promise of free ice water. It has since grown to a 76,000-square-foot shopping wonderland. Jackalopes are a specialty, Butko says, whether on a 33-cent postcard or a $120 head mount. 605-279-2175; walldrug.com
Mister Ed’s Elephant Museum & Candy Emporium
It’s not clear why there’s a talking elephant outside this shop near Gettysburg, but there’s no denying its appeal. The building, rebuilt after a 2010 fire, features vintage toys, birdhouses, hundreds of candies and 12,000 pachyderms. “It’s still leaving people speechless. It’s modern and clean and new, but it’s still as wacky as ever,” Butko says. 717-352-3792; mistereds.com
Soco Crafts & Tower
Maggie Valley, N.C.
This shop at the back entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park features the state’s largest observation tower and a shop selling old-time souvenirs, along with locally made ciders, lawn decorations and handicrafts. “That’s the back route into the Smoky Mountains,” Butko says. “It looks out onto the rolling hills.” 828-926-2807; sococrafts.com
Garden of the Gods Trading Post
Manitou Springs, Colo.
This massive shop near the Garden of the Gods geologic park claims to be the largest Native American art gallery in the state. Along with familiar souvenirs, shoppers also find jewelry, pottery, sand paintings and Navajo rugs. “This may be a step up in formality,” Butko says. “It’s less offbeat but just as interesting, and it has been there for 90 years.” 800-874-4515; gardenofthegodstradingpost.com
While Vegas has gone upscale in recent years, there’s no denying the flashy appeal of this self-proclaimed “World’s Largest Gift Shop.” The store promises “over 40,000 square feet of shopping hysteria.” Butko says the excitement is infectious. “They have an awful lot of fun with a lot of stuff.” 702-385-7359; worldslargestgiftshop.com
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