Classic Vacation Spots We Miss and How They've Changed

Trevi Fountain in Rome

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Trevi Fountain in Rome
Cheapism / DALL-E 3
Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls

New York
We're talking about the New York side of the falls here, not the Ontario side. After Vice President Aaron Burr's daughter Theodosia and her husband honeymooned there in 1802, Niagara Falls began establishing itself the "Honeymoon Capital of the World." There were resorts, there were official "honeymoon certificates" signed by the mayor, and, most importantly, there was easy and inexpensive boat and road access.

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Niagara Falls, New York, Today

Niagara Falls Today

New York
While the falls are still there and still lovely, airline travel and the misfortunes of the surrounding area diminished the falls as a honeymoon destination. A power plant fell into the Niagara River in the 1950, misguided urban renewal decimated the surrounding city in 1969, and nearby Love Canal was declared toxic in 1978. Eight million people still visit the falls each year, but the surrounding city's population has been halved since its peak and the major non-falls draw is no longer honeymoon resorts, but a casino.

Related: Beyond Niagara: Beautiful Waterfalls in All 50 States

Florida Memory Project
Florida Memory Project by Florida Memory Project (CC BY)

Walt Disney World's Discovery Island and River Country

In 1974, Walt Disney World in Buena Vista, Florida, opened its Treasure Island bird sanctuary (rebranded Discovery Island in 1978). There were exotic animals, a flamingo pool, and beaches for the tourists — Disney's first step into ecotourism. In 1976, Disney World opened its River Country water park, with slides, a lazy river, and an artificial mountain that made it look like a fake swimming hole. It, too, was a success.

Walt Disney World's Discovery Island, Florida, Today
Walt Disney World's Discovery Island, Florida, Today by d.k.peterson (CC BY)

Walt Disney World's Discovery Island and River Country Today

To see Discovery Island's animals today, go to Disney World's Animal Kingdom. Discovery Island shut in 1999 amid accusations animals were being mistreated and fears of roaming alligators and potentially deadly bacteria plaguing the waters. River Country, meanwhile, shuttered at the end of 2001 when tourism dipped after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Two drownings and a death by deadly amoeba didn't help. The park closed permanently in 2005.

Related: Where to Safely See Wild Animals Up Close

The Poconos, Pennsylvania
The Poconos, Pennsylvania by Thomas Hawk (CC BY)

The Poconos

In Eastern Pennsylvania right along Interstate 80, the Pocono Mountains offered folks from the New York metro area a place to ski, play tennis, golf, honeymoon, sit in heart-shaped or champagne-glass shaped hot tubs, and otherwise get away from it all. Folks from the New York metro area were inundated with commercials promising escape from hectic city life.

Great Wolf Lodge Poconos

The Poconos Today

While several of the old resorts faded away in the '90s and 2000s, others reinvented themselves, becoming casino resorts or refocusing on families and businesspeople. The Poconos still have a smattering of adult-only resorts, but the arrival of national chains such as Great Wolf Lodge and Kalahari Resorts suggest a future far beyond swinging adult resorts.

Salton Sea, California

Salton Sea

In 1905, the Colorado River overflowed into the Salton Sink California's Colorado Desert and spent two years filling a 15- by 35-mile lake dubbed the Salton Sea. Developers built hotels, yacht clubs, and golf courses around it. Sonny Bono spent time there, Rock Hudson water-skied there, Frank Sinatra and Jerry Lewis boarded their buddy Guy Lombardo's yacht there, The Beach Boys belonged to the North Shore yacht club, and President Dwight Eisenhower golfed there. Until the early 1970s, it was the place to be.

Salton Sea, California, Today

Salton Sea Today

There's one big problem with a lake that has no drainage: What goes in has no way of going out. When farmers flocked to take advantage of irrigation from the Colorado River, their runoff water — laden with pesticides — streamed into the sea. Salt levels increased, depriving fish of oxygen and leaving their corpses to rot on the beach in 120-degree weather. You can visit the ruins of the Salton Sea resorts today, but the toxic dust from the sea's bed makes it unwise.

Related: Once Popular Tourist Hotspots That Are Now Totally Abandoned

Palm Springs, California
Palm Springs, California by Thomas Hawk (CC BY)

Palm Springs

Which Palm Springs are we talking about? Is it the Desert Inn, Racquet Club, and Golden Era Hollywood Palm Springs of the 1920s and '30s? The midcentury modern architecture and Rat Pack sightings of the '50s and '60s? The unhinged spring break crowds of the '80s? Thanks to its location, Palm Springs was always going to be a tourist attraction. But that attraction has evolved over time.

Palm Springs, California, Today

Palm Springs Today

Palm Springs still gets close to 2 million visitors a year to its spas, resorts, golf courses, hotels, museums, shops, restaurants, and film festivals. It's right on the doorstep of the Coachella music festival, and is a nexus for pride events such as the Broadway in Drag pageant and The Dinah girl party music festival.

The Catskills, New York
Museum of Jewish Heritage

The Catskills

New York
If you've seen "Dirty Dancing" or Season Two of "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel," you get the gist. Teeming with resorts, dance lessons, big dinners, outdoor activities, and Borscht-belt comedians, the Catskills saw its first resorts open in the early 1800s. It was in the mid-20th century that Jewish families began going to big resorts such as Grossinger's, Kutsher's, the Concord, and the Nevele in large numbers to escape the anti-Semitism of other vacation destinations. For thousands of families, the Catskills became a second home during the summer months.

The Catskills, New York, Today

The Catskills Today

New York
The 1960s weren't kind to the Catskills. Air travel got cheaper, religious restrictions loosened, air conditioning became more prevalent at other vacation spots, and social upheaval led younger vacationers away from big bands and foxtrots. Today, the Catskill Mountains are far more likely to welcome visitors to ski resorts, farm lodging, casinos, outdoor art installations, or music near the site of Woodstock than to a sprawling family resort. The all-inclusive resorts haven't vanished, but some are being slowly retaken by nature.

Related: Relaxing Lake Resorts for a Summer Escape

Las Vegas Strip, Nevada, postcard, United States of America, USA, Vintage
Las Vegas Strip, Nevada, postcard, United States of America, USA, Vintage by Thomas Hawk (CC BY)

Las Vegas Strip

Gambling has been legal in Las Vegas since 1931, when the first casinos opened on Fremont street. When the Hoover Dam went online in 1936, cheap electricity brought brighter lights and the attention of mobsters such as Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky. Siegel opened The Flamingo on what would become The Strip in 1946, and dozens of other followed. Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Elvis Presley, and others streamed in, buffet lines opened, and showgirls were in no short supply as gamblers flooded in.

Related: Rat Pack Haunts You Can Still Visit in Las Vegas and Beyond


Las Vegas Strip Today

The Flamingo is still there, but it, the Tropicana (opened in 1957), Caesars Palace (1966), and Circus Circus (1968) are among the few maintaining their original swingin' identities. After Steve Wynn opened the Mirage in 1989, corporate money flowed into town and the era of the mega-resort began. For a bit more of the old grit, head to the Fremont Street Experience to find older casinos and pay respects to the old Strip at the Neon Museum, which preserves the iconic signs of Vegas' past and features special exhibitions such as "Brilliant!" where illuminated signs come to life to the tune of classic Sin City songs.

Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Fort Lauderdale

Fort Lauderdale held an annual college swim forum in the '30s and became a minor destination for college students during the 1940s. It was release of the Connie Francis film "Where The Boys Are" in 1960 that pushed Fort Lauderdale's popularity to unheard-of proportions. More than 50,000 spring breakers showed up the spring after the movie released, ballooning to 350,000 by 1985.

Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Today
Sean Pavone/istockphoto

Fort Lauderdale Today

Fort Lauderdale's mayor appeared on national television in the late '80s with Daytona Beach's mayor, pleading with spring breakers to head there instead. (Daytona eventually tired of it too and shut down spring break in the early '90s.) "Spring break was a wild ride, and we are happy it has moved on to other destinations," the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau told the Miami Sun-Sentinel in 2016. Students now "are likely to be staying at a good hotel, paying for it on their platinum card and enjoying our chic nightlife, as well as quality beach time." The Parrot Lounge offers a taste of spring break to a far milder Fort Lauderdale clientele.

Related: Surprising Facts About America’s Beaches

Route 66, Illinois to California

Route 66

Illinois to California
The original Route 66 — the Mother Road — ran from Chicago to Santa Monica, California, and was featured in John Steinbeck's 1939 novel "The Grapes of Wrath" and the 1960s television show "Route 66." It was the spirit of the American road, complete with kitschy motels, chintzy souvenir shops and, far better, gorgeous views of the Midwest and Southwest.

Route 66, Today

Route 66 Today

Illinois to California
The route was taken out of the U.S. highway system in 1985 and divided into National Scenic Byways. Some of the historic motels and attractions are still there, but abandoned towns such as Glenrio, Texas, and Texola, Oklahoma, are a reminder that the road's best days are behind it, even if there's a stretch of it now designated for bicycles.

Related: Vintage Photos of Classic American Road Trips

Silver Springs, Florida

Silver Springs

At one point, Florida's most popular tourist attraction wasn't a mouse and his media empire, but a natural spring. Silver Springs was the setting for the 1960s television show "Sea Hunt" and movies including "Tarzan" and "Creature From the Black Lagoon." Animals, a water park, concerts, glass-bottom boats, and swimmers mowing the bottom of the waters entertained nearly 1 million visitors a year.

Silver Springs, Florida, Today
Michael Warren/istockphoto

Silver Springs Today

Agricultural development around the springs has drained the aquifer that supplies it and made algae more common and plant life more fragile. Florida's park service took over Silver Springs in 2013, retaining glass-bottom boats to teach visitors about the natural beauty surrounding them, including fish and alligators in the waters below.

Lake Placid, New York
Steve Powell/Staff/Getty Images

Lake Placid

New York
Lake Placid, in New York's Adirondack Mountains, has hosted the Winter Olympics twice — in 1932 and 1980 — and is best known as the site of the U.S. men's hockey team's "Miracle on Ice" win against the Soviet Union. It went on to host the 2000 Goodwill Games and hosted ESPN's Great Outdoor Games that same year.

Lake Placid, New York, Today

Lake Placid Today

New York
The town of fewer than 2,500 people is still where people go to see abolitionist John Brown's farm and gravesite, the Whiteface Mountain ski resort, Ironman Lake Placid, and the Lake Placid Horse Show. Athletes still train at Lake Placid's former Olympic facilities, including the Mount Van Hoevenberg Olympic Bobsled Run, and the town will host the Winter Universiade international sports event in 2023.

Reno, Nevada
Reno, Nevada by Ethan (CC BY)


What made Reno "The Biggest Little City In The World"? Divorce. People could come from around the country to take advantage of relaxed divorce laws passed in the early 1900s. When Nevada legalized gambling in 1931, Reno jumped on it and amassed more casinos than Las Vegas. It had all the looks of a boom town, but growing competition in Vegas dimmed its lights.

Reno, Nevada, Today

Reno Today

There are still more than 20 casinos in Reno, including two large resorts in the Peppermill and Atlantis, the National Bowling Stadium and Hot August Nights car show, and the opening of the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center in 1995 paved the way for Tesla's Gigafactory and Panasonic, Google, and Apple facilities there. Combine that with a thriving restaurant scene, ski resorts and other outdoor activities, and a booming population, and Reno seems to be more evolving than fading.

Related: The Best Casinos NOT in Las Vegas

Pismo Beach, California

Pismo Beach

"Here we are, Pismo Beach and all the clams I can eat!" Bugs Bunny wasn't the only one making that left turn at Albuquerque and right turn at La Jolla. During the early to mid-20th century, the Pismo Clam was so plentiful on Pismo Beach it was harvested with plows. Along with the city's pier, restaurant, amusements, hotels, a "tent city" for visitors was needed along Highway 2 (now Highway 101).

Pismo Beach, California, Today

Pismo Beach Today

Not surprisingly, just plowing up clams will deplete your clam population pretty quickly. Though Pismo Beach still has a clam festival and clamming is legal here, the Pismo clam is only now starting to make a comeback. With the golden age of auto travel gone and Pismo Beach's tourist options limited to the beach, car shows, surfing, and butterfly watching, Pismo Beach may be too laid back for a Looney Tune these days.

Related: The Best Beaches on the West Coast

Varosha, Cyprus


In the 1960s and early 1970s, you couldn't find a swankier seaside resort than Varosha in Cyprus' Famagusta. Elizabeth Taylor, Brigitte Bardot, and Richard Burton were among its frequent guests. There were hotels, restaurants, beautiful sandy beaches along the Mediterranean. It gave every indication it would be a tourist hot spot for years to come.

Varosha, Cyprus, Today

Varosha Today

In July 1974, after years of ethnic violence and some prodding by Greek leadership, there was a coup by Greek Cypriots. With Turkish Cypriots imperiled, Turkey invaded and Varosha's Greek Cypriots fled. The United Nations took control of Varosha in 1984 and declared it off-limits, prohibiting anyone other than its former inhabitants. Cypriots were allowed to cross through it starting in 2003, but it remains desolate. When Turkey and Turkish Cypriots moved toward a partial reopening in July 2021, it was condemned by the United States and others as a dangerous provocation. 

Havana, Cuba


It was a resort town, it was a jazz capital, it was a casino mecca, and it was a boon for celebrities. Havana was Cuba's face to the rest of the world, and it was one of luxury and opulence fed by sugar money. Unfortunately, it was a mask for more dire circumstances in the rest of Cuba and for the corruption of leader Fulgencio Batista's administration.

Havana, Cuba

Havana Today

After the Cuban missile crisis, the naval blockade, the failed Bay of Pigs invasions, the flotillas of refugees, and decades of sanctions against various Castro administrations, Havana gained a reputation in the United States as being frozen in time: the colorful Colonial-era buildings always slightly cracked, the 1950s automobiles still on the streets. President Barack Obama's administration rolled back travel restrictions in 2014, former President Trump's administration tightened them again and the current Biden administration has plans to relax some restrictions again.  Much of what Americans envision is still there, but tourism investment from the U.S. and other countries has made Havana more of a 21st century hot spot than U.S. travelers know.

Discover more nostalgic travel destinations right here.

Rome and its art treasures


There are few places on the planet more romanticized than Rome, what with its picturesque fountains and ancient ruins everywhere you turn. Renaissance art is around every corner, and the food is some of the best on the planet. The winding streets and alleys, bursting with life from every cafe, restaurant, and gelato shop, used to breathe an infectious life.

Large group of people sitting at the Spanish Steps in Piazza di Spagna in central Rome at day

Rome Today


You've still got art, food, and fountains, but there's something else you've got: crowds. In 2023, a record 35 million people visited Rome; today, to enjoy anything Roman is to fight your way through a tidal wave of tourists.

And if you're going in the summer? Watch out for the heat. It's the only thing that makes large crowds worse.