- Famous tourist attractions don’t always live up to expectations – but when they do, they’re truly spectacular.
- The Spud Drive-In Theatre in Idaho is gimmicky, but delightful.
- You won’t find a more whimsical stretch of road than the Enchanted Highway in North Dakota.
Nothing kills the holiday-high quite like squandering your precious time – and cash – waiting to see a hyped-up tourist attraction that ends up being an unmitigated let-down.
However, sites across the US have undeservedly been called tourists traps for becoming too crowded or too expensive, though many of them remain must-sees.
From the natural wonder of the Grand Canyon in Arizona to the admittedly tacky neon lights illuminating the Las Vegas Strip in Nevada, these are the tourist attractions actually worth visiting in every state.
ALABAMA: US Space and Rocket Centre
Occasionally billed as Earth’s largest space museum, the US Space and Rocket Centre boasts a slew of notable artifacts, including a national historic landmark Saturn V moon rocket, an Apollo 16 command module, a Skylab orbital workshop, and an Apollo 12 moon rock.
ALASKA: Iditarod Trail Headquarters
Each year, a uniquely Alaskan tradition called the Iditarod, an annual long-distance sled dog race that spans over 1150 miles, takes place. The race’s headquarters, located in Wasilla, Alaska, have long drawn both fans and critics of the race.
Many – especially animal activists – take issue with the race’s use of dogs, so a visit to the headquarters offers activists a rare opportunity to actually meet members of the Iditarod founder’s family, and converse with them in person. The HQ also features trophies, displays, photos, and videos.
ARIZONA: The Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon is Arizona’s most well-known natural beauty, and for good reason: between its immense size and breathtaking views, this natural phenomenon is a must-see…despite the crowds.
ARKANSAS: Whitaker Point
Whitaker Point is one of the most easily recognisable landscapes in Arkansas, and what’s more, it’s easily accessible. While you may need to wait your turn for that perfect Instagram shot on its ledge, you’ll get instantly rewarded with scenic vistas, prismatic wildflowers, and glimmering waterfalls.
Here are some of the best waterfalls to visit in the US.
CALIFORNIA: Alcatraz Island
Al Capone, Whitey Bulger, and a slew of other criminals were once imprisoned in Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary, which is located on an island in the San Francisco Bay. Sure, tours are around $US50, but checking out the infamous penitentiary and its stunning views is worth it.
COLORADO: Great Sand Dunes
More than 4.5 million people visited Colorado National Parks in 2016 alone, and those visitors spent nearly $US300 million in and around the park. Considering that the Great Sand Dunes have a reputation of being consistently too hot, windy, or dangerous to comfortably explore, that’s a lot of cash to drop.
But when the weather is just right, the dunes are worth it.
After you get over the sheer size and wonder of the Great Sand Dunes – they can span up to 750 feet tall – go sand sledding or sandboarding through them for an unforgettable experience.
CONNECTICUT: The PEZ Candy Factory
We all have a soft-spot for PEZ; the candy is interactive, it’s fun, and a visit to the factory gives you a behind-the-scenes look at how it’s made. Plus, it’s bright and engaging.
DELAWARE: Dogfish Head Craft Brewery
Dogfish Head Craft Brewery has grown significantly in popularity since it first opened in 1995; in fact, readers on the website 10Best just voted the Dogfish Head Craft Brewery tour as one of the best in the nation for 2018.
FLORIDA: St. Augustine Alligator Farm
One of Florida’s oldest running attractions, the slightly gimmicky St. Augustine Alligator Farm, which opened in 1893, allows visitors to view hundreds of native alligators. While many complain that it’s overpriced, there’s a zipline, obstacle course, and live feedings!
GEORGIA: Ponce City Market
As long as you don’t mind rubbing shoulders with hordes of other hungry tourists, a trip to the Ponce City Market will no doubt satiate foodies in search of the most creative fare Atlanta has to offer. Even Zagat gives the market its seal of approval, noting that the PCM’s new amusement park makes battling the crowds a worthwhile venture.
HAWAII: Punaluu Black Sand Beach
Punaluu Black Sand Beach has been noted for being crowded and noisy, which means that tourists hoping to relax and catch some peaceful rays will likely hate it.
But for those of you in the mood to witness a truly unique location (and catch sight of some endangered turtles), Punaluu is a must-see spot.
The sand on Punaluu Black Sand Beach gets its inky hue from crushed lava rock, but that’s not the only reason to visit the famous beach; endangered Hawksbill turtles and green turtles are often spotted on the shore.
IDAHO: The Spud Drive-In
There’s something delightfully kitsch about how this potato-farming region’s entrance sign to their drive-in theatre features a gargantuan potato on the back of a cherry-red flat-bed truck.
ILLINOIS: Wrigley Field
Baseball fans will jump at the chance to visit Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs and host to Major League Baseball for the 104th season in 2018.
INDIANA: Marengo Cave
Marengo Cave is one of Indiana’s most-visited natural and National Landmarks, likely because a pit stop there offers something for everyone. History buffs can explore the five-mile long cave, which allegedly started to form approximately one million years ago; there are gemstone mining bags for children; camping grounds for outdoorsy folk; and families can even opt to take a family canoe trip on Blue River, nearby.
IOWA: Grotto of the Redemption
The Grotto of the Redemption in West Bend, Iowa, is often referred to as the eighth wonder of the world; not only is it one of the largest man-made grottos on the planet, but it also boasts a staggering collection of precious stones and gems, such as rose quartz, crystals, and jasper, which are embedded in the grotto’s walls.
KANSAS: Dorothy’s House
“Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
If you were wondering where in Kansas Dorothy was referring to when she uttered those iconic words in the movie “The Wizard of Oz,” here’s your answer. You can take a tour through the Land of Oz and chat with costumed guides at Dorothy’s House, which resides on the same land as Kansas’Coronado Museum.
KENTUCKY: Kentucky Bourbon Trail
Back when Kentucky was still a part of Virginia, one of the region’s original counties was called “Bourbon County” – and bourbon has remained a rich part of Kentucky’s history, considering 95% of the world’s bourbon is distilled, aged, and bottled in Kentucky’s Bourbon County today.
LOUISIANA: Gardens of the American Rose Centre
Located on a 118-acre wooded tract in Louisiana, the Gardens of the American Rose Centre is the nation’s largest park dedicated to varieties of the world’s most romantic flower – the rose. Visitors can check out more than 65 individual rose gardens, as well as 20,000 rosebushes on the premises.
MAINE: Lobster Shack at Two Lights
Yes, you’ll have to wait in line forever – especially since the Lobster Shack at Two Lights has been featured in some prestigious guides, including Serious Eats, Bon Appetit, and The Food Network – but the views, the BYOB policy, and the to-the-point, no-frills menu, make the stop worth it.
MARYLAND: American Visionary Art Museum
The American Visionary Art Museum seeks to highlight the work of self-taught artists, prioritising unique, eccentric art over traditional pieces of work – which means every new visit to the museum will likely feel fresh and different than the visit before.
MASSACHUSETTS: USS Constitution
Named by President George Washington after the United States Constitution, the USS Constitution is the oldest wooden-hulled, three-masted frigate – one of six – commissioned in the United States Navy.
Construction on the USS Constitution started in 1794 in the North End of Boston, and she launched on October 21, 1797.
MICHIGAN: Mackinac Island
Mackinac Island harkens back to a simpler time, before the automotive industry underwent its massive boom in the US, and has been a tourism hotspot since the late 19th century.
The sweet seaside town, known for its fudge, takes the whole old timey-ness to a new level, and visitors can explore the island in horse-drawn carriages (although drive-your-own-buggies are available for vacationers who prefer to self-direct).
MINNESOTA: The Jolly Green Giant
He’s jolly, he’s green, he’s a giant. What more could you ask of a tourist attraction?
MISSISSIPPI: Vicksburg National Military Park
Vicksburg National Military Park is the fifth national military park created by Congress; the park, which was established in 1899, commemorates the site of the American Civil War Battle of Vicksburg.
The park boasts a vast collection of historic cannons, reconstructed trenches, and more along its 16-mile route, but some have criticised that the large size of the site makes it hard to find specific monuments and relics you’re looking for; however, the problem is easily fixed by exploring it by car.
MISSOURI: Gateway Arch
The tallest man-made monument in the US, the Gateway Arch is a 630-foot structure which you can access via a tram-ride, allowing you to drink in the views of Missouri from up high.
MONTANA: Glacier National Park
However, between Glacier’s 700 miles of trails through rugged mountains and its immaculate lakes, the natural wonder remains worth a visit.
NEBRASKA: Chimney Rock
The formation represented a landmark for pioneers heading west in the 19th century, and is said to be around 24 to 25 million years old.
NEVADA: The Las Vegas Strip
The strip is a classic for a reason, and if you’re going to make the trek to Sin City, you might as well take advantage of the casinos, nightclubs, upscale eateries, bars, and nightlife available to you.
NEW HAMPSHIRE: The Cathedral of the Pines
NEW JERSEY: Atlantic City Boardwalk
When Americans picture summertime on the Jersey Shore, the Atlantic City Boardwalk, with its variety of confection shops, amusements, restaurants, and views, inevitably comes to mind, and for good reason.
NEW MEXICO: Roswell
While it may seem like an unusual choice to designate an entire city as a tourist trap worth visiting, Roswell isn’t just any city – it’s the so-called “land to the aliens.” Legend has it that an alleged UFO crashed near the city, and in honour of the myth, most everything in Roswell is alien-themed, to an exultantly ostentatious degree.
The street-lamps lighting the roads at night? Alien-shaped. If you buy a game of “Operation” in Roswell, you’ll find yourself “operating” on an alien, rather than a human. Roswell is the ideal destination for folks with both a sense of humour, and a penchant for the zany.
NEW YORK: Times Square
New York is brimming with popular and historically significant tourist attractions: there’s the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Centre, and Central Park, to name a few. And then, of course, there’s Times Square.
Locals will avoid Times Square like the plague, but if you’re just passing through the city, a visit to the bustling, bright hub is akin to a rite of passage – if you can make it through those streets unscathed, you can make it anywhere.
NORTH CAROLINA: The Biltmore estate
With 33 bedrooms and 43 bathrooms spread over 175,000 square feet, the Biltmore is billed as America’s largest home, so if you want to feel bad about your living situation while marveling at a palatial estate, this is the place to go.
NORTH DAKOTA: The Enchanted Highway
The Enchanted Highway, a 32-mile stretch of two-lane roads studded intermittently with whimsical roadside art – such as giant metal birds, and a tin family – more than lives up to its name.
OHIO: Cedar Point
The 364-acre Cedar Point is known as the roller coaster capital of the world, and boasts a handful of world-record breaking attractions. For instance, it has a world-record 72 rides, and is the only amusement park in the world with six roller coasters taller than 200 feet.
OKLAHOMA: Route 66
Route 66 was one of the original highways within the US highway system, running from Chicago, Illinois, through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, before ending in Santa Monica, California.
It has been mentioned in countless novels, movies, lyrics, and other works of art, so you’ll feel the weight of US history around you while travelling upon its hallowed gravel.
OREGON: Crater Lake
Yes, visitation rates to Crater Lake have been skyrocketing over the past few years, but don’t let the threat of long crowds deter you from visiting, mostly because you’d be hard-pressed to find a more intensely blue body of water in such a unique location. Nestled within a giant volcanic caldera, it is the deepest lake in the US at 1,943 feet.
PENNSYLVANIA: Reading Terminal Market
You could easily spend all your time in Philly ping-ponging between the city’s two cheesesteak mavens, but if you want to sample some of the other 54 national cuisines the city offers, the Reading Terminal Market is a fine place to start – just be prepared to wrestle your way through many fellow gourmands.
RHODE ISLAND: WaterFire Providence
Several times over the spring, summer, and autumn, Rhode Island citizens gather together on the four-acre Waterplace Park and Riverwalk, and send 100 bonfires down the Woonasquatucket River, making for a spectacularly enchanting show.
While outdoor festivals swarming with vendors, street entertainers, and tourists can be overwhelming, if you can withstand the chaos, the fire-lighting ceremony is truly bewitching.
SOUTH CAROLINA: Fort Sumter
The bombardment on Fort Sumter was the result of an ongoing tension between the existing US government and the Confederate government over ownership of the South. Seven states had seceded from the Union, and when then-President Abraham Lincoln declared his intentions to resupply Union forces at South Carolina’s Fort Sumter, Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard decided to bombard it on April 12, 1861.
Nobody was killed in the fight, but the battle is said to mark the beginning of the Civil War.
SOUTH DAKOTA: Mount Rushmore
Opened in 1941, the Mount Rushmore National Memorial is a massive granite sculpture which depicts the stone visages of past US presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln.
Some claim it’s underwhelming, others complain about crowds, but this piece of US history is worth a visit.
The US is home to a profuse number of theme parks worth visiting, but Dollywood, named after entertainer Dolly Parton, is in a league of its own: not only can you enjoy classic Southern-style dining, but there are more than 40 rides and 15 shows to choose from while there.
TEXAS: The San Antonio River Walk
One of the most visited places in San Antonio, the Riverwalk attracts tourists of all walks of life because it embodies the spirit of Texas excess: it just keeps getting bigger and better.
You’ll have to wait in line, but tickets are relatively affordable, and once you hop aboard a water taxi, you can explore all the restaurants, shops, museums, and sights San Antonio has to offer.
UTAH: Bryce Canyon National Park
The largest collection of hoodoos – tall, skinny, and protruding pillars of rock that form over thousands of years due to different types of erosion – in the world can be seen at Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah, which means that during the daytime, every view point is jam-packed with throngs of rude tourists blocking the views of the iconic rocks.
Tear your gaze away from the hoodoos and venture out to the park during the night instead: it’s dark enough at Bryce that you’ll be able to view 7,500 stars on a moonless night.
VERMONT: Ben and Jerry’s Factory
Not only will you learn all about the ice-cream making process during your 30-minute tour at the Ben & Jerry’s Factory in Waterbury, Vermont, but you can taste-test an assortment of flavours at their full-service Scoop Shop.
VIRGINIA: Virginia Beach
Skip the grossly overpriced attractions in Colonial Williamsburg, and head over to Virginia Beach, which was dubbed one of the top 25 beaches in the US this year by TripAdvisor. The boardwalk, while sometimes crowded, has something for everyone.
WASHINGTON: The Ape Cave
WEST VIRGINIA: Archive of the Afterlife: The National Museum of the Paranormal
But for travellers who are nonetheless still drawn to otherworldly paraphernalia – and for fans of spooky ghost stories – West Virginia’s Archive of the Afterlife: The National Museum of the Paranormal is a destination worth scoping out.
Full of eerie oddities you won’t find elsewhere, travellers have praised the museum’s owner for his authenticity and energy.
WISCONSIN: The House on the Rock
The mad and bizarre vision of recluse Alex Jordan Jr., the House on the Rock in Wisconsin is a dark, 14-room home perched on – you guessed it – a rock. The interior is dark, and will make you feel as though you’re wandering through a fever dream, which is probably why the location makes a cameo in the television series, “American Gods,” based on a Neil Gaiman novel.
WYOMING: Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park – the first national park in the world, let alone the US – was officially established by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1872. The park, which spans over 3,000 square miles, boasts a variety of natural wonders, as well as over 2,000 campsites, and is absolutely worth a visit, even if that visit entails having to witness crowds of tourists and other disappointments.
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