From coast to coast, the United States is filled with picturesque small towns, with corner stores and church steeples, that would be right at home on a postcard. However, tucked inside the wilderness and off lost highways, there are other communities that look nothing like the ideal small town — some don’t even look like they’re from this planet!
Most of these towns would make for a fun weekend destination, though you would be wise to steer clear of a couple others. And as strange as these locales are, their residents are sometimes even stranger. Ready for a visit?
1. What happens when you cross a hippie commune with Mad Max? You get the surreal and gritty Slab City, California. Home to all kinds of drifters, artists, and wanderers, Slab City is closer to a mishmash of tents and RVs than an actual town. But that doesn’t stop many from calling it “the last free place in America.”
The Independent / Ruth Iorio
With no permanent utilities or local government, Slab City is about as close to off-the-grid as you can get. It also attracts braver tourists with sites like Salvation Mountain, a small hill covered in psychedelic paint and Bible verses.
The Independent / Ruth Iorio
2. If you’re looking to spray paint your name across a highway, take a trip out to Centralia, Pennsylvania. You can easily do it because nobody drives on that road. Nobody does much of anything there. Just watch out for the pavement — it might be a little bit hot…
YouTube / Ground Pilot Images
An underground coal fire broke out in 1962 and continues in parts of the town today. Almost the entire population abandoned their homes, though a handful stayed behind. The government razed most buildings in Centralia to keep squatters from moving in, and the post office revoked this ghost town’s zip code.
3. What beats an abandoned town? A town with exactly one resident! That’s the case for Monowi, Nebraska. Though it reached a booming population of 150 in the mid-1930s, nearly all its inhabitants moved away or died off over the years. But who exactly would stick around such a place?
Meet Elsie Eiler, the mayor, bartender, and librarian of Monowi. She’s in her eighties, but Elsie manages to keep herself and the town in good shape. Elsie’s “neighbors” — from 40 miles away — visit her every week, so she doesn’t get too lonely.
4. Whittier boasts a population of 214 people, which isn’t bad for a small Alaska town. The only difference is that nearly all of them live in a single building. In fact, residents hardly ever need to leave their collective home, known as the Begich Towers.
Their building contains almost everything you’d need, whether it’s a police station, supermarket, church, or video rental store. In a pen outside the Begich Towers, some people even keep pet reindeer, which handle the frigid conditions way better than their human pals.
Reddit / HyruleanHero1988
5. Close to 2 million of Colma, California’s inhabitants have no idea they live there. How is that possible, you ask? Well, the town is home to 17 sprawling cemeteries, and the dead there far outnumber the 1,500 living citizens. So why are so many people buried there?
Colma first became a graveyard destination around the turn of the century, when nearby cities like San Francisco started running out of space. They shipped their recently deceased over to Colma, which now serves as the resting place for famous individuals including Wyatt Earp and William Randolph Hearst.
True West / History
6. Retirement doesn’t have to be boring — just ask residents of The Villages, Florida. More and more senior citizens are flocking to this age-restricted wonderland to live out their golden years in this action-packed town. It’s got everything: sports, shopping, and recreation!
The area has dozens of golf courses, which is why most locals zip around in golf carts rather than actual cars. And hitting the links isn’t the only way to have fun. Despite The Villages having a median age of 67, it has one of the highest STD rates in Florida! Very bold villagers have even been known to get frisky inside their golf carts.
Flickr / Ted Eytan
7. While you’re trekking across Florida, be careful not to confuse The Villages with Miracle Village. Despite its similar name, Miracle Village is not a place for fun and excitement. Most of its population don’t ever stray outside town limits, as they are all convicted sex offenders.
Vice / Sofia Valiente
The isolated hamlet provides a refuge for released convicts who served hard time for non-violent sex crimes. Here, the 150 individuals live in solitude and in accordance with Florida law, which forbids them from going near any schools or playgrounds. Many of them have to follow a strict curfew and wear ankle bracelets to monitor their movements.
Daily Mail / Noah Rabinowitz
8. There’s never a dull moment in Gibsonton, Florida. Though it began as a small town of fishermen and lumber workers, the 1930s marked the point when it became a haven for carnies. Thousands of ride operators, grifters, and sideshow attractions spent their off-season here when not traveling the country.
Vice / Chris Balogh
The town became the retreat for carnival workers thanks to one of history’s strangest couples, Al and Jeanie Tomaini. Known respectively as “The Giant” and “The Half-Girl,” the mismatched husband and wife started a circus guild called the Association and were later elected to lead the community.
YouTube / Bizarre Medical
9. Whereas most folks are happy with just one spouse, the people of Hildale, Utah, tend to disagree. Thanks to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Hildale became the polygamy capital of America. But things there are in flux after their leader Warren Jeffs got a life sentence in prison for marrying kids.
San Angelo Standard Times
In 2017, Hildale elected its first-ever woman mayor, Donia Jessop. She stroves to break the FLDS’ stranglehold on the town’s politics and finances, though nearly all of the municipal employees resigned after her victory. Their radical beliefs prevented them from working under a woman.
10. You don’t have to be bad to go to Hell, Michigan. Perhaps topping the list of strangely-named towns in America, it got its unusual moniker by bordering Hell Creek. Though it is just a charming community at its core, Hell residents understand that the devilish name is their biggest asset.
Wikimedia Commons / Sswonk
Tons of local business sport various hell puns on their signs, and they make a bundle dealing hell-themed merchandise to visitors. During harsh winters, weather forecasters also have a ball by announcing that Hell has frozen over.
Flickr / hve