26 Summer Tourist Spots to Avoid -- and Where to Go Instead
Of all the joys of summer, crowds are not one of them. Nor are sky-high seasonal prices and tacky, pop-up attractions designed for the sole purpose of separating you from your money. With this in mind, Cheapism has compiled a list of more than two dozen tourist spots that, while worthy of a visit during much of the year, are probably best avoided in summer for exactly those reasons. The list was developed with input and recommendations from tourism authorities and travel bloggers nationwide.
Along with all the natural beauty come crowds by the busload, particularly during summer, and development that has grown to include unrelated attractions as Ripley's Believe it or Not!, wax museums, and a Hard Rock Cafe. The bottom line: Visit in the off-season.
Think of this 50,000-acre preserve of primarily undeveloped woodland as a pared-back, rustic version of Niagara Falls in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Its Upper Falls is one of the largest east of the Mississippi -- more than 200 feet across, dropping nearly 50 feet, not a wax museum in sight.
There's Mount Rushmore, Needles Highway winding through pine and spruce forest, and Jewel Cave National Monument -- located amid dispiriting tourist traps such as the Stratosphere Bowl, Dinosaur Park, and Storybook Island that landed the region on Wander Wisdom's "Ten Places to Avoid on Your Next Summer Vacation."
Detach from technology and unwind, rock-climbing, hiking Lookout Mountain (there's also a train up), or riding horses. An under-the-radar destination that's experiencing a renaissance, Chattanooga also has new restaurants and bars to check out.
This place for lovers -- who else remembers that famous ad campaign? -- in the state's northeast is known for antique shops, waterfalls, and stands of White Pines. But being two hours from New York City and Philadelphia translates into serious crowds from Memorial Day through Thanksgiving.
Taos, a high desert highlight surrounded by the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, is home to a vibrant arts community (including free galleries), historic adobe buildings such as Taos Pueblo ($16 for adults, $14 for children 11 and older), and the Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, where tours ($37 for adults, $24 for students) explore the geography inspiring Georgia O'Keeffe paintings.
This national park in Southwest Colorado is famous for cliff dwellings preserved from the 1190s. The park is a must-see, says Joost Schreve, co-founder and CEO of the travel site kimkim, but come in summer and you'll be touring the cramped spaces with dozens of other visitors.
Canyon de Chelly is less visited than Mesa Verde, but equally stunning -- photographer Ansel Adams took some iconic images there. You can take a tour of the canyon with Navajo guides, Schreve says, and there's no entrance fee.
Beautiful sequoia trees and the granite cliffs of El Capitan and Half Dome (also famously photographed by Adams) make this park certainly worth visiting. But summer is the worst time to come to this Northern California hotspot for anyone concerned about crowds and reservations, Schreve says.
Writing off Lake Placid as merely a snow season destination (as many do) is a mistake, Schreve says. It has boating, hiking, and rock climbing, and visitors can test their skills as future Olympians at the warm-weather Bobsled Experience. Its Olympic Museum admission is $7 for adults, $5 for children.
At only 16.8 square miles, Myrtle Beach averages more than 17 million visitors annually -- talk about crowded. This coastal resort area is known for celebrity-designed golf courses, a boardwalk lined by arcades, and of course the beach, attracting enormous crowds starting in June when school is out. Try September or October instead.
Check out Ocracoke Island in North Carolina, a place to take a deep breath, slow down, and enjoy good food and nature. There's no golf here, and few fancy hotels -- the island doesn't even have a stoplight. But its lifeguarded beach was just named the third-best in the United States by Dr. Beach.
Sure there's lots to see and do -- Times Square, Rockefeller Center, the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, to name a few. But come summer, it's hot and sticky and packed with tourists. And it's one of the most expensive cities in the world, no matter when you visit.
Often passed over in favor of Philadelphia, Pittsburgh offers budget attractions and a buzzing food and arts scene. Touring the University of Pittsburgh's 42-story Cathedral of Learning is just $4 for adults, $2 for children. The Gothic Revival skyscraper commissioned in 1921 is on the National Register of Historic Places. Among the free attractions is the Frick Art & Historical Center, showcasing an extensive antique car collection.
Fascinating and historic, known for its antebellum architecture, Savannah is worth a visit. But it's probably best to plan that visit for spring or fall, saving money and yourself: The average daily temperature in July is 90 degrees, and it's all but guaranteed to be muggy.
Like Savannah, there's a great deal of history to explore -- minus the crowds. Trace the history of the Gullah Geechee people at a living history museum that preserves the vanishing customs brought to America from Africa. The Midway Museum ($10 for adults, $5 for children), showcases a collection of heirloom furnishing, paintings, and artifacts from the Colonial era. The Cay Creek Wetlands Interpretive Center, where the boardwalk passes through nine ecosystems, is free.
If you're not a fan of spending a small fortune on a congested summer getaway, Seattle is best avoided. The Space Needle, Pinball Museum, and oysters are wonderful reasons to visit, just not at the height of tourist season.
Yes, Boise. Thrillist just named it a travel destination that's about to blow up. It's affordable, with an abundance of breweries and outdoor experiences, including the free Boise River Greenbelt, a 25-mile park along the Boise River that includes treelined paths and views of wildlife.
Napa is lovely, there's no denying it, and is wonderful to visit. Napa's peak season corresponds to harvest season, August through October, which is when to expect the highest prices on everything you see and do -- wine tours, meals, accommodations. Better to visit September through November, or March through May.
Walla Walla is home to more than 120 wineries and has carved a niche as a global wine and culinary scene while maintaining a relaxed, small-town charm. Biking the farm-lined roads of Washington's unofficial wine capital by renting a cruiser for $10 an hour at Allegro Cyclery.
Faneuil Hall, The Freedom Trail, the Public Garden -- Boston has attractions in spades. Come summer, all the history, beaches, arts, and stellar restaurants make it one popular (and expensive) place. Save it for the fall, when the leaves turn and crowds die down.
Artisans' studios, farm-to-table eateries, and a performing arts center are some reasons to visit this once-sleepy state capital and now cultural hub -- said to have the most cultural offerings north of Boston. Downtown is known for its historic buildings, public art, and unique alleys and squares.
Dominated by 4,000-foot mountain peaks and picturesque roads, Waterville Valley is a place to slow down and enjoy New England. Fish, bike (rentals start at $26 for a half-day), or hike more than 30 miles of well-marked and maintained trails.
Gatlinburg, on the edge of one of the country's top national parks, gets flooded with summer tourists taking advantage of countless hotels, gift shops, and restaurants on the way to Dolly Parton's Dollywood. Hold off.
A bit of New Orleans mixed with a little tropical Caribbean paradise results in long, white sandy beaches, artist communities, and a growing music scene. Don't miss the galleries and creative gatherings of Bay St. Louis; for music, head to Ocean Springs. But don't miss the miles of nature trails and bicycle trails.
Catching a glimpse of the Amish way of life is one of the big attractions in Lancaster. But rampant commercial development competes with the horses and buggies. The Dutch Wonderland kids' park is here, and outlet shopping draws visitors seeking to capitalize on Pennsylvania's lack of sales tax on most clothing.
This up and coming wine region is about 30 minutes outside Austin, but a world away from the big-city crowds. While taking two-lane roads past lakes in limestone canyons, don't miss Farm Road 337, where oaks and cacti cling to rock ledges, or the swimming at Krause Springs in Spicewood, a 115-acre park with 32 springs. Admission is $8 for adults, $5 for children ages 4 to 11.
As a coastal city known for seafood, mini-golf, and a Ferris Wheel, Ocean City population naturally balloons between Memorial Day and Labor Day, with hordes of partying college and high school-age visitors included. Hotel prices here nearly double too. Avoid the madness by visiting in September or October.
Some tourists might head to Kennebunk (made famous by the Bush family), but Camden is much less crowded. There was just 4,850 population at the most recent census in this seaside village of Victorian inns, boutiques, galleries, and restaurants. Also worth a visit, the 5,700-acre Camden Hills State Park has 30 miles of hiking trails, oceanside picnic areas, a campground, and a road leading to the 800-foot summit of Mount Battie.
Want to score in Las Vegas? Go in the spring, or hold off on visiting until September. The crowds here in summer mean higher hotel rates and less room at the pool. And then there's the temperature: It'll be regularly well above 100 degrees.
Double the money you save avoiding gambling and tourist traps without sacrificing fine dining (look for Takashi, which singlehandedly raised the culinary stakes in Salt Lake for Japanese cuisine) or attractions (The Leo museum honors Leonardo da Vinci with art, science, and technology under one roof). But there's also white sand beaches, and hiking. Because the city hasn't exploded yet, you won't be exploring these things with thousands of other tourists.
Outstanding restaurants, mansions, stunning beaches, boating, biking, and unique shopping help make Martha's Vineyard a place to see and be seen, drawing countless celebrity visitors that have included presidents Clinton and Obama. But with all this fabulousness comes a seasonal surge in population to 115,000 from 15,500, sky-high prices and a whole lot of hassle. Wait until fall.
Cape Breton, about 650 miles north of Portland, Maine, allows a true getaway for lovers of beaches and nature on a 4,000-square-mile island filled with charming inns.
Travel + Leisure describes this overrun beach, part of Jones Beach State Park in Nassau County, as being like Grand Central Station at rush hour. It attracts about 5.1 million visitors annually to its attractions, including an outdoor concert arena and a two-mile boardwalk. It all sounds lovely ... for October.
This may not seem like an obvious recommendation, but Coeur d'Alene has more than 55 lakes, and that makes for a lot of beach. Activities on scenic Lake Coeur d'Alene include boat rentals and paddle boarding, and elsewhere there's hiking, golfing, and camping, as well as weekly concerts in city parks.
With about 16 million visitors annually, this is one of the most crowded beaches in America.The colorful mix of fortune-tellers, merchants, and artists is fascinating to observe, but it's Southern California -- you don't need to see them in summer.
Famously the subject of Bruce Springsteen's 2000 song "My City of Ruins," Asbury Park has faced both economic challenges and the battering of Hurricane Sandy. But it's on the upswing, with thriving food and live music scenes, a boardwalk (don't miss the vintage pinball machines), shopping, and art galleries.
From iconic Waikiki Beach you can see Diamond Head, one of the world's most popular climbable volcanoes. There's also nearly two miles of white sand, and warm, turquoise water. But if you're after solitude -- or just some room to spread a beach blanket -- this isn't the best choice.
One of the best kept secrets in the Florida Keys is more than just a beach. There are art galleries to explore, fine dining to enjoy, watersports and serious fishing opportunities -- and only a 90-minute drive from Miami International Airport. Don't miss feeding the tarpon at Robbie's Marina, where dock admission is $2 and a bucket of fish is $3. You can also rent a kayak there, or book a tour.
Virginia Beach's oceanfront lifestyle is in full swing from May through September, meaning the city, beaches, and three-mile long boardwalk are overrun. Consider saving this destination for April or early May.
Swap out Virginia Beach's boardwalk for Titusville's quirky downtown and you get a lot with it. Titusville is along Florida's Space Coast and home to the Kennedy Space Center, but also to the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, where visitors can see manatees, bird watch, fish, and hike for $10 admission. For beach time, hit Playalinda (another $10), an undeveloped and uncrowded stretch with a nearby wildlife refuge. Be warned: Playalinda draws nude sunbathers.
Wildly popular in winter thanks to world-class ski slopes and resorts, Lake Tahoe is also a favorite destination come summer, when its shores are awash in beach umbrellas and sun seekers. Best to visit this lake and mountain paradise from March through May, or September through November.
You don't have to go far to find a less crowded alternative to Lake Tahoe. Fallen Leaf Lake is about a mile south, with National Forest System water left clear by a lack of commercial development, hidden springs and waterfalls. Fallen Leaf Campground has more than 200 sites and six yurts, costing the many boaters and bikers about $35 a night without electricity.
Portland has the International Rose Test Garden, Portland Art Museum, and Saturday Market, and really comes alive from June through August. But along with the sunshine comes crowds and increased hotel prices; September is just as lovely, with a drop in crowds and accommodation prices.
Salem and the Williamette Valley is the state's agricultural heart and known for its vineyards -- it was Wine Enthusiast's 2016 Wine Region of the Year -- and gardens, such as the 91-acre Bush's Pasture Park, where there's fruiting and flowering trees, native plants, a formal rose garden, trails and picnic areas. But don't miss exploring historic buildings such as the Bush House Museum ($6 for adults, $4 for kids 16 and older, $3 for those under 16).
San Francisco has much to offer with its restaurants, museums, parks, and shops. But it is one of the most expensive cities in the country, and tourists come in droves anyway. Most don't know the weather is actually better between September and November.
A more low-key, laid-back version of life in California, Santa Cruz offers hiking in the coastal redwood forests of Wilder Ranch State Park (day-use parking is $10), fun for all on the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk (including the iconic Giant Dipper wooden roller coaster), and, for the surfers, legendary breaks.
For many New Englanders, Cape Cod is as much a tradition as turkey at Thanksgiving. But visiting during the peak tourist months of July and August can be punishing. Unless the best water temperatures is absolutely essential, come in May, June, September, or October.
These 19 communities between Lake Michigan and Green Bay, with their lighthouses, harbors, and historic villages, are called "the Cape Cod of the Midwest." There's white sandy beaches -- Peninsula State Park ($11) on Green Bay is home to the sheltered Nicolet Beach, known for its calm waters -- and uninhabited islands surrounding the peninsula where birds nest.