I came across an article recently on msn.com by Amy Daire and Sophie-Claire Hoeller griping about what they call the worst tourist traps in every state.
In our travels, we’ve actually visited quite a few of the locations the authors decry. I have a sneaking suspicion they have not been to many of them.
First of all, a “tourist trap,” by definition costs money or is set up to get you to spend money. As Urban Dictionary says, “A place specifically designed to attract stupid tourists and take their money.”
Many of the locations on the authors’ list are free to visit. Some have gift shops or places for tourists to spend their money, some do not.
Here’s their rundown:
The worst tourist trap in every state
by Amy Daire and Sophie-Claire Hoeller
Maybe you’re touring the US as a citizen out to see your homeland. Or maybe you’re coming from afar to see what America has to offer. Either way, you probably want to make the most of your travels.
While some tourist spots across the country have become legendary landmarks that everyone should see, others are just disappointing tourist traps. Some are blatant attempts to make money, others are plain weird, but either way, they should be avoided at all costs.
Save your time, money, and sanity by skipping these 50 tourist traps.
ALABAMA: AVE MARIA GROTTO
This miniature city was built out of cement and trash by brother Joseph (formerly Michael Zoettl), a hunchbacked Benedictine monk. The little village is often referred to as “Little Jerusalem,” and features 125 tiny religious statues, grottos, and holy locations.
It’s essentially a wacky, four acre holy shrine – you might be better off going to Legoland.
ALASKA: THE NORTH POLE
Did you really come this far, to one of the most beautiful, untouched, wild and untamed states, to see a fake little Christmas village?
On top of that, the North Pole is freezing in the winter, and actually really hot in the summer, and swarming with mosquitos.
ARIZONA: THE FOUR CORNERS
Of course it sounds cool to technically be in New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah, all at the same time, but you’ll find yourself in the middle of nowhere, far away from anywhere you’d ever want to be, in a sweltering desert, and all you’ll have to show for it is a cheesy photo. EVEN BETTER, it’s really just a brass, CD-like disk that’s allegedly 1,800 feet from the actual intersection of those four states.
ARKANSAS: CRATER OF DIAMONDS STATE PARK
While the idea of digging for diamonds sounds cool – the park is apparently the only source of natural diamonds in the US that’s open to the public – the reality is a 37 ½-acre plowed field of dirt. It’s been open since 1906, so the chances of finding a diamond seem pretty slim to us.
CALIFORNIA: HOLLYWOOD WALK OF FAME
The Hollywood walk of fame has become one of the biggest hotspots for tourists visiting California. Sadly, the stars that celebrities are so proud of are on a dirty, crowded sidewalk, surrounded by tacky street performers, and far from anything else worth a visit.
COLORADO: BUFFALO BILL GRAVE AND MUSEUM
Sure, it’s the grave of one of the world’s most famous cowboys – and outstanding hunter and accomplished showman – but a grave is a grave is a grave.
Plus, the Buffalo Bill Grave and Museum opened in 1921, and hasn’t changed much since.
CONNECTICUT: WILD BILL’S NOSTALGIA STORE
People from all over the country stop at this quirky roadside pop culture reliquary, which is most famous for being home to a (terrifying) Jack-in-the-Box that’s said to be the world’s largest. A sort of cabinet of curiosities where most curiosities are for sale, the shop is a little like a hyped-up flea market.
DELAWARE: REHOBOTH BEACH BOARDWALK
Not technically overrated, but certainly overcrowded, Rehoboth Beach’s boardwalk makes this list for being jam-packed with tourists, and chock-full of tchotke’s aimed at them. Apparently, finding a parking spot is about as rare as spotting a unicorn, and many complain about inflated prices, and call the boardwalk “average,” or even “extremely average.”
Of the four Disney parks in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, Epcot is easily the most underwhelming. Unless you’re a college student looking to “drink around the world” (for hundreds of dollars nonetheless), this theme park offers nothing.
The experiences at each country in the park focus only on the most basic stereotypes of each culture, and the few rides this park has are disappointing to most children.
GEORGIA: WORLD OF COCA-COLA
This huge tourist attraction in the middle of Atlanta brings in millions of visitors every year. Guests can see how the soda is bottled, take their picture with the famous polar bear, and taste several of the company’s other drinks.
The tickets aren’t too costly, with adult prices at $17 and children’s at $13, but battling the overwhelming crowds and long lines just to walk through what is essentially a huge advertisement, is downright silly.
HAWAII: WAIKIKI BEACH
Waikiki was basically designed with tourists in mind, and is a strip of luxury hotels, expensive stores, and chain restaurants flanked by an overcrowded beach. It looks like most of the rest of America, and is not representative of the stunning, tropical island paradise Hawaii really is.
IDAHO: CRATERS OF THE MOON
While the name evokes a surreal, alien-like landscape, the reality does not quite live up to it.
While it is quite pretty, it’s only interesting for about 10 minutes. After all, how much time can you spend ogling volcanic rocks?
ILLINOIS: CHICAGO’S MAGNIFICENT MILE
We’re not sure what’s so magnificent about a street that has a few shops and restaurants, but hey.
INDIANA: NCAA HALL OF CHAMPIONS
With surprisingly little memorabilia on display and in dire need of a renovation, you’ll be in and out of this museum, which pays homage to student athletes, in 30 minutes or less. If you want to learn about Hoosier basketball, you’re better off heading 50 miles east to the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in New Castle.
IOWA: CAPTAIN JAMES T. KIRK’S FUTURE BIRTHPLACE
Trekkies the world over make the trek to this tiny town in Iowa, to a private yard behind a small house, to look at a gravestone-like plaque commemorating the “Future Birthplace of Captain James T. Kirk, Karch 22, 2228.”
Now obviously that’s not true, since “Star Trek” is fiction, but to add insult to injury, it was really just the doing of an intrepid Trekkie mayor who, upon reading “Making of Star Trek,” saw that Kirk would be born in an unnamed small town in Iowa. He figured, ‘Why not Riverside?’ and plopped the plaque in the middle of town, declared it Kirk’s future birthplace, and the rest, as they say, is history (or the future).
KANSAS: THE WORLD’S LARGEST BALL OF TWINE
It’s a ball of twine.
KENTUCKY: ARK ENCOUNTER
Last year, this life-size arc and biblical theme park opened in Williamstown, Kentucky. The grounds feature a zip line, because what would a biblical theme park be without one?
The fact that this attraction is an ode to one of the most famous biblical stories ever isn’t the trap, though. It’s their outrageous prices that should make you think twice: tickets are $40 per adult and $28 per child, and zip lining costs at least $50 on top of that.
Our comments: We visited the Ark Encounter and thoroughly enjoyed it. Be prepared to do a ton of reading throughout. The exhibits walks you through the history of the time, and had many ancient biblical artifacts. It was pricey though.
LOUISIANA: BOURBON STREET
New Orleans is a beautiful, historic town filled with culture, and Bourbon Street just doesn’t do it justice. It’s essentially like Cancun during Spring Break – neon signs advertising cheap, tacky bars line a street that’s full of drunk people throwing plastic beads at your head – when they aren’t throwing up.
You’re better off going to a jazz bar or something that will let you drink and experience a little local culture.
Our comments: We had fun on Bourbon Street. In one of the local bars with an open mic night we saw a young lady belt out “Me & Bobby McGee” as good as Janice Joplin.
MAINE: THE DESERT OF MAINE
Despite its appearance, this block of land is not actually desert. The empty plot is a glacial silt surrounded by thousands of Maine’s pine trees. People can gawk at the natural phenomenon that created a desert in the middle of New England, but with plaster camels and plastic sand-related souvenirs, it’s hard to imagine what draws in 30,000 tourists every year.
MARYLAND: RIPLEY’S BELIEVE IT OR NOT!
There are several Ripley’s Believe It or Not! “museums” all over the country. However, in a historical city like Baltimore where there is actual art and history to see, it’s baffling why anyone would spend time in a place full of replicas and gimmicks.
MASSACHUSETTS: FANEUIL HALL AND QUINCY MARKET
Sure, it’s been open since 1742, but these days it’s a glorified food court teeming with tourists that sells mediocre food and tacky souvenirs. Do like a local and avoid it.
Our comments: We ate there. Quite a variety. It was a fun place to stop.
MICHIGAN: MYSTERY SPOT
There’s a maze, mini golf, and a zip line, but their main attraction is several crooked shacks built into hillsides that trick kids into thinking everything is gravity defying. It’s a cheap roadside tourist trap with gaudy billboards along the highway to prove it.
MINNESOTA: MALL OF AMERICA
This mall is the largest shopping center in America, with 520 stores and so many square feet that the Yankee Stadium could fit inside of it nine times. But there’s much more to do than just shop – there’s an indoor theme park, a miniature golf course, and and aquarium – but all that adds up to is sensory overload.
The fact that it is crowded with hundreds of tourists each and every day (42 million visitors each year) makes it all the worse.
MISSISSIPPI: BIRTHPLACE OF ELVIS
It’s a two room shack. The King may have been born there, but it’s no palace.
MISSOURI: NUCLEAR WASTE ADVENTURE TRAIL AND MUSEUM
This giant pile of rocks is essentially a mound of nuclear waste.
To be precise, it’s 1.5 million cubic yards of hazardous waste entombed to create a small mountain that marks the spot that was home to the country’s largest explosives factory turned uranium ore processing plant until 1966. After being left abandoned for over two decades, the US Department of Energy decided to cover it with rocks. Now, it features a museum and covered up TNT, asbestos, mercury, radium and radioactive uranium. Enjoy!
MONTANA: 50000 SILVER $ BAR
This Montana bar is home to over 50,000 silver dollars, and thus one of the largest coin collections in America. There’s also a motel, tons of RV parking, a casino, and Montana’s largest gift shop.
This quirky roadside site is one of the highest-rated attractions in the state, though it’s little more than 39 cars stacked to resemble England’s famous Stonehenge.
Sadly, this isn’t the only ode to Stonehenge you’ll see on this list.
NEVADA: THE VENETIAN GONDOLAS
While the entire city of Las Vegas could arguably be considered a tourist trap, the one place you should really steer clear of while you’re there is The Venetian’s gondola rides.
It might sound romantic, but once you see the gamblers and shoppers strolling by as you float through what is essentially a shopping mall in a chlorine blue pool water for less than 15 minutes, you might think differently. Even worse, a private gondola for two will set you back $116.
NEW HAMPSHIRE: CLARK’S TRADING POST
Locals who have been going here for years seem to love it (and the fact that it hasn’t changed at all). However, tourists who don’t feel the nostalgia will likely feel differently.
Their lackluster attractions include bumper boats, Segways, and a steam train, but their money maker is the trained bear shows, which many consider ethically questionable.
NEW JERSEY: ATLANTIC CITY BOARDWALK
Like a second-rate Vegas, Atlantic City’s good ole days are long gone. All that’s left are gaudy casinos, tacky souvenirs, and overpriced taffy.
NEW MEXICO: ROSWELL
The town of Roswell prides itself in being the alleged site of an alien crash landing in 1947, and has created an entire tourist industry around it.
The town is now a giant gimmick, where everything that could possibly be shaped like an alien or UFO, is. It’s full of creepy alien toys, and all of them pretty low budget.
Our comments: We thoroughly enjoyed the UFO Museum. There is a lot to read there, and you leave with a lot of questions. Very interesting.
NEW YORK: TIMES SQUARE
Locals avoid this spot at all costs, and so should you. Not only is it overcrowded, it’s also full of expensive souvenirs and tacky chain restaurants that you can find anywhere else in the country.
NORTH CAROLINA: THE BLOWING ROCK
The views of the Blue Ridge Mountains are beautiful, to say the least. People rave about the sights you can see from your car or on trails throughout the many parks. However, The Blowing Rock, which gets a lot of praise for its stunning views and interesting rock formation, is a miss.
It costs $10 dollars per person to visit, which might not break the bank, but why pay anything at all for a view you could see for free?
NORTH DAKOTA: THE ENCHANTED HIGHWAY
This collection of scrap metal sculptures stretches across 32 miles on a southern North Dakota highway. You’ll see giant grasshoppers, families of fish, towering humans, and an all-seeing eye made of geese (yup). If you happen to be driving down the road, it might ease some road trip boredom, but it’s certainly nothing to drive out of the way for.
OHIO: “A CHRISTMAS STORY” HOUSE
There are hundreds of ways you can celebrate the holidays. Waiting in a line and paying money to see the filming location of “A Christmas Story” should not be one of them. While the movie may be great, the basic house it was filmed in and the museum dedicated to it aren’t anything to stop your car for.
OKLAHOMA: J. M. DAVIS ARMS & HISTORICAL MUSEUM
A majority of the ~50,000 artifacts in the museum are firearms from a private collection that dates back to the 14th century. The West might have been wild, but this glorified gun museum is wilder.
OREGON: UNDERSEA GARDENS
This underwater room holds tourists for about half an hour as they watch divers interact with the natural wildlife. The realistic view (murky water and five fish, if you’re lucky) is hardly worth paying for, especially when there are sea lions right above the surface that you don’t even need to pay to see.
PENNSYLVANIA: THE LIBERTY BELL
This American history classic is the definition of underwhelming. After learning about it year after year in school, you’d think it’d be a large, spectacular bell. In reality, it’s small and broken, not to mention surrounded by tourists.
RHODE ISLAND: MYSTERIOUS VIKING TOWER
If you have an affinity for mysterious landmarks, then you might enjoy the tiny tower that sits in the middle of Newport.
Unfortunately for most, these mysterious remains aren’t that exciting. No one really knows who built it, but legend says that it was the Vikings, which would make it one of the oldest buildings in America. Most beg to differ. Either way, the speculating gets old quick.
SOUTH CAROLINA: SOUTH OF THE BORDER
South of the Border is nothing more than a large gift shop and adjoining restaurant. The “attraction” sits right below the border that separates North and South Carolina, and is intentionally tacky.
SOUTH DAKOTA: WALL DRUG
This blatant tourist trap makes over $10 million a year, but how they do it is a mystery. The drugstore turned makeshift mall became famous for offering free ice water back in 1931, and doesn’t charge for attractions such as their snake pit and giant road side sculptures (see the dino, above). They do reel in tourists and road trippers with over 300 billboards throughout the state, though.
Elvis was a true prodigy, but touring his house for a minimum of $30 is a strange way to honor him. While the grounds are beautiful, there are far better ways to spend your time in Tennessee.
Our comments: This is a must-visit attraction in our books. Thoroughly enjoyed our time there. The mansion is smaller than expected. If you visit, make sure to also check out his private jet, The Lisa Marie.
TEXAS: THE ALAMO
Remember the Alamo? More like, spend a day at the Alamo and you’ll remember to never go back. The building’s remains are so small they consistently disappoint visitors.
History buffs might get a kick out of it for an hour or so, but looking at a picture will suffice for most.
UTAH: MOQUI CAVE
The sandstone erosion “cave” is touted as an ancient landmark and natural history museum, but it’s not even a cave that was built or used by Native Americans.
Even if you don’t mind the ruse, people who have been claim that it’s just a glorified gift shop.
VERMONT: ROCK OF AGES
You can tour this giant granite quarry for a small price, but looking down into a hole that isn’t the Grand Canyon is hardly worth it. The tour is provided by a company that mostly makes tombstones, which puts a damper on everything, and their gift shop sells overpriced granite gifts and jewelry.
Like Stonehenge, but styrofoam. No further explanation necessary.
WASHINGTON: GUM WALL
This brick wall attraction near Seattle’s Pike Place Market was covered in 15 years worth of gum until 2015, when it was removed to preserve the brick. The tradition of sticking used, germy chewing gum on the wall picked back up shortly after, and it is now almost back to its original, grimy glory.
WEST VIRGINIA: THE CONGRESSIONAL BUNKER
For $34 a person, you can see where all the beloved (and not so beloved) politicians in America would have lived post-apocalypse. The bunkers, which were hidden in a hotel at first, opened for tours in 1995 after someone spilled the beans about the secret hiding place.
The idea is pretty cool, but there’s no real need to spend 90 whole minutes and over $30 for a tour of wooden bunk beds, canned food, and white cinder block walls.
WISCONSIN: MARS CHEESE CASTLE
Wisconsin is known for its amazing cheese, and really, anything involving cheese can do no wrong. However, Mars Cheese Castle, which beckons tourists driving down I-94, is a pretty obvious trap. The gaudy building should be warning enough, but if it isn’t, the inflated prices on the hundreds of cheeses, sausages, condiments, and crackers they sell might be.
Despite it being an obvious tourist trap, tourists and locals alike don’t seem to mind at all.
WYOMING: FRONTIER PRISON
This old prison is basically a museum of torture the whole family can enjoy. It’s no Alcatraz, but tour guides do let you sit in old gas chambers and see the “Punishment Pole,” both of which will likely cause nightmares.
Have you been to any of these? What do you think?
We often enjoy the kitschy tourist places. And some on the list were quite surprising when we visited them. The Alamo, for instance, was much smaller than we expected, and the Mall of America while huge, also has a lot of the same stores located on different levels.
It is certainly fun to explore though.