Photo by Sebastion on Unsplash
I have driven the I-94 route from Detroit to Chicago and back more times than I can count in the last 20+ years of going to St. Louis to visit my family. It can be a tedious and long journey; however, if you break it up with a road stop or two, the trip goes so much faster. Here are a bunch of fun and unique places to explore on your road trips to and from Chicago.
American Museum of Magic - Marshall
Founded in 1978, the American Museum of Magic contains two floors of artifacts and magic memorabilia from famous magicians like Houdini, Thurston, Kellar, Blackstone, Hermann, and many other Michigan magicians. Bob Lund, the museum’s creator, began collecting magicians' artifacts in the mid-1930s and kept collecting until he died in 1995. Now, it’s the most extensive collection of magic on display in the United States and includes thousands of magic show posters, rare books, and stage props. You can see the custom-made milk can that Harry Houdini would crawl in, handcuffed, and then be thrown into the Detroit River for him to escape. The museum also holds regular magic shows and special magic-themed events, like "Become a Magician Day," where kids can learn a magic trick and then perform it on a stage. The American Museum of Magic is a destination for magic geeks who already know their stuff and for those interested in learning more about magic. The museum is currently closed for the winter and will be reopening in March. It is at 107 E Michigan Ave in Marshall.
Giant Ice Cream Cone - East Leroy
Here is a weird roadside attraction for you, a giant 15-ft tall ice cream cone next to a converted 1940s gas station into a restaurant. Stop in and get your selfie with this colorful quadruple-decker ice cream cone. The wooden structure was carved from an old tree and made into a five-scoop brightly-colored ice cream cone to enhance Station 66. The restaurant sells home-made donuts, food, and refreshments, along with local-grown in-season produce, and of course, ice cream. Station 66 also hosts car shows several times a year. You can find the giant cone at 4588 D Drive Street in East Leroy.
Air Zoo - Portage
Photo by Heather Raulerson
The Air Zoo is a fantastic museum filled with historic and rare aircraft, exhilarating thrill rides, science, and history in Portage, Michigan. It has over 100 air and space artifacts, interactive exhibits, and simulators. You can spend the day exploring the museum or just swing by for a couple of hours on your road trip break. The museum is set up on an aviation history timeline, displaying the earlier years of aviation to the fastest airplane clocked at over 2,000 mph (the exact speed is top secret). The SR-71B Blackbird is the only Blackbird of its kind left globally, and it was instrumental as a reconnaissance plane during the Cold War. There are a couple of other exhibits in the museum that you should see: Flight & Flak, The Art of Paul F. Wentzel, Sr. and Votes for Women: A Portrait of Persistence. When I visited the air museum a while ago, one of the exhibits was on the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). I always find these exhibits inspirational. Hopefully, you will too! After you finish exploring the main building, drive to the back to the East Campus. In this building, you’ll find so many more aircraft in various stages. The East Campus houses one of the nation’s premier Military Aircraft Restoration centers, and you can watch workers restore aircraft one part at a time. Open hours are Mondays through Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and opens at noon on Sundays. Air Zoo can be found off I-94 (exit 78), south of the Kalamazoo/Battle Creek International Airport.
Neon Grill - St. Joseph
At the Neon Grill, you can see a full-sized 1955 two-tone Chevy resting on top of the roof of this 1950’s diner. You can pick up amazingly delicious oversized hamburgers and hot dogs, along with milkshakes. If you happen to drive by St. Joseph at night, stop in to see the Chevy’s headlights and taillights lit! The Neon Grill’s open hours are Mondays to Saturdays from 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. The Neon Grill is at 2650 North Niles Road in St. Joseph.
Skellville: Skeleton Scenes - Benton Harbor
This is a creepier stop of an entire yard full of a collection of fake human skeletons set in poses and creative scenes. At Skellville, you will find a souvenir shop, on-the-spot made-to-order skulls, antiques, and a garden supply shop! Elvis even makes an appearance and does a little singing and dancing. Spend a short time wandering through the skeletons taking creepy selfies at this weird road stop at 2400 M-139 in Benton Harbor.
11-Foot Long Kaleidoscope - Three Oaks
Your last road trip stop in Michigan takes you to Three Oaks, where you can operate an 11-ft long kaleidoscope. Spinning this giant kaleidoscope and looking inside, you will be treated to an explosion of colors and flashing lights. The kaleidoscope is located in a small park and was built-in 2012 by William Anderson in Grand Rapids and was then moved to 105 N. Elm Street in Three Oaks.
I hope you find some entertainment in these stops on your Detroit road trips to Chicago and back. Don’t try to do all of them on the same journey, as that will lengthen your drive considerably. Pick one on the way there and maybe another one on the way back. Then the rest knock them off on your next road trip. Here’s to seeing the weird, unusual, and lesser-known places in Michigan. Happy Road Tripping!
Oh, and if you find any other cool spots to add to this list, let me know in the comments below.