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.
3600 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 St, 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, 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 E Ohio St, 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.
201 E. Randolph St., 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, 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 Co 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 Harriet Island Road B3, 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.
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.