Watch Out for These Tourist Traps in All 50 States

Tourist Traps

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Graceland, Tennessee

Inside Trap

For better or worse, tourist traps are part of the American landscape. Countless overhyped, colorful, quirky, and sometimes downright mystifying spots draw sightseers nationwide — at least, when a pandemic isn't making travel too dangerous and complicated for such silliness.

Whether an attraction qualifies as a tourist trap is often in the eye of the beholder, and some are still beloved by locals. Travel blogger David James of The GypsyNesters has his own test: whether visitors leave feeling a little swindled. "But we love tourist traps," says his wife and fellow blogger, Veronica James. "David cannot pass them by. Boomers are really into this stuff because, when we were kids, that's where we went. We would pack up our station wagon and go to these places."

Some are iconic locales now overrun or overrated. Others lure road trippers out of the way of their intended destinations. They might be cheesy, inauthentic, overpriced, crowded, boring, ugly, or just plain not worth the time. We talked to travel bloggers and industry professionals and read online reviews to identify tourist traps in every state.

Related: Off-Limits Destinations That Could Reopen to Tourists (and Some That Already Have)

President Reagan Ate Here McDonald's, Alabama
President Reagan Ate Here McDonald's, Alabama by Richard apple (CC BY)

Alabama: McDonald's Visited by Reagan

At the McDonald's in Northport, a bronze bust and a photo commemorate the day in 1984 when President Ronald Reagan came by for a photo op with a Big Mac. (The goal was to make him look like an average Joe, which he made clear he was not, by asking an aide what he was "supposed" to order.) Although a plaque reads, "President Reagan ate here," Roadside America reports that the restaurant where the Gipper ate was demolished, and the original memorabilia is gone. A new McDonald's was built on the same site in 2006.

Gold Dredge 8 Tour, Alaska

Alaska: Gold Dredge 8

When open, Gold Dredge 8 provides a window into Fairbanks' gold-mining days and gets generally good reviews, but there are plenty of tourist trap tactics at play. It cost $55 for adults and $35 for children to take a narrated train ride to the dredge, visit the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, and pan briefly for gold — emphasis on "briefly." It seems the chief purpose of the tour is to steer people to the extensive gift shop.

Tombstone, Arizona
Kobby Dagan/shutterstock

Arizona: O.K. Corral

Deriding staged gunfights lasting only 30 seconds and declaring the O.K. Corral just OK, critical reviewers say the town of Tombstone is worth a visit only for true cowboy fanatics. And even they might want to rethink this destination, which detractors label gimmicky and overpriced.

Related: The 40 Best Places in America to Travel Back in Time

Crater of Diamonds State Park, Arkansas

Arkansas: Crater of Diamonds State Park

Crater of Diamonds State Park in Murfreesboro is said to be the world's only diamond-bearing site open to the public. Some reviewers scoff that they could find the same variety of rocks in their driveways, and that kids lose interest quickly in digging in the hot sun and hard dirt. Better to skip the fee of $15 for adults and $7 for children.

Related: The Best State Park in Every State

Fisherman's Wharf, California

California: Fisherman's Wharf

Fisherman's Wharf traces its history to the 1800s, when it was the home base of San Francisco's fishing fleet, but it has evolved over the years into tourism central. When it's possible to visit again, expect it to be riddled with overpriced junk for sale, with street vendors preying on unsuspecting tourists and too many people to make it comfortable to walk around. Check out these fun, budget-friendly options in the Golden State, instead.

Related: 20 Free and Cheap Things to Do in San Francisco

16th Street Mall, Colorado

Colorado: 16th Street Mall

A pedestrian and transit space covering about 1.3 miles in downtown Denver, the 16th Street Mall is a tourist trap akin to Times Square in New York City and Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles. It's overrun with chain stores and restaurants, offering very little that's unique to Denver.

Pez Visitor Center in Orange, Connecticut

Connecticut: Pez Visitor Center

The Pez Visitor Center in Orange doesn't draw the same adoration as its namesake candy dispensers. A "self-guided tour" entails mainly access to a gift shop and a peek through a window at a factory that may not be running. For some visitors, though, a look at the staggering variety of dispenser heads made since 1948 may be worth the $5 price of entry for adults ($4 for children). It comes with a $2 credit for use in the gift shop — hint, hint.

Lewes Delaware
Lewes Delaware by jcsullivan24 (CC BY)

Delaware: 'Fountain of Youth'

It seems a tad unfair to continue calling a well in Lewes a "Fountain of Youth" when it has dried up (particularly given how crazed people are about preserving their youth). It's said to have been discovered in 1631 by the area's Dutch colonists, but it's unclear what made locals believe the water had such magical powers, or what makes tourists believe the well is worth a visit. Furthermore, it appears it’s private property now.

SkunkApe Research Center, Florida

Florida: Skunk Ape Research Center

Never heard of a skunk ape? You're not alone. According to the website of the Skunk Ape Research Center, it's a large, hairy, bipedal mammal that calls the Florida Everglades home and may be a distant relative of Bigfoot. Reviewers point out that the facility in Ochopee is not a "research center" at all — just a gift shop with a small museum devoted to an obscure mythological creature. There is also an animal exhibit. Admission is $15 for adults, $8 for kids, which may leave some folks feeling "skunked."

World of Coca-Cola, Georgia

Georgia: World of Coca-Cola Museum

While some may find the history of Coca-Cola and its various flavors interesting, Georgia finance writer David Bakke calls out the World of Coca-Cola museum in Atlanta as plagued by long lines, mediocre exhibits, and pricey souvenirs. Visitors, allowed back in July, pay $21 (for adults) or $17 (for children) to enjoy what amounts to a giant Coke commercial.

Waikiki Beach, Hawaii

Hawaii: Waikiki Beach

A retreat for Hawaiian royalty in the 1800s, Honolulu's world-famous Waikiki Beach has long been plagued by crowds and trash. It has attracted both a large homeless population and the likes of Hermès, Gucci, and Prada. Visitors have described the commercialized beach as a cross between New York City and Miami Beach, and not in a good way.

Related: 20 Tips for Visiting Hawaii on a Budget

Oasis Bordello Museum, Idaho

Idaho: Oasis Bordello Museum

Tour guides talking about the day-to-day lives of prostitutes, represented by tarted-up mannequins? The Oasis Bordello Museum in Wallace seeks to provide an authentic glimpse into the colorful past of the mining district where this brothel is located, but some visitors say the museum is sad and creepy — perhaps not worth the $5 admission.

Navy Pier, Chicago

Illinois: Navy Pier

Between the $18 price to ride the Ferris wheel, crowds, mediocre bars, and cafeteria food, locals often steer clear of Chicago's Navy Pier, leaving it for the tourists, resident Rachel Cooper says. Still, there are a few redeeming attractions, such as performances by the Chicago Shakespeare Theater (although tickets aren't cheap) and epic fireworks displays over Lake Michigan. 

World's Largest Paint Ball, Indiana

Indiana: Largest Ball of Paint

What started as an ordinary baseball has grown into the world's largest ball of paint and one of Indiana's most visited roadside attractions, as hard as that might be to believe. After about 40 years of painting, the ball has more than 23,000 layers and weighs more than 4,000 pounds. Tourists passing by Alexandria can call to make an appointment to view the ball — but why?

Spook Cave, Iowa

Iowa: Spook Cave

There's not a whole lot to see here, folks — that's one of the primary criticisms of Spook Cave. An escorted boat tour of a flooded cave in McGregor (May through October) does give visitors a chance to learn about the history of limestone in the region and view stalactites. Whether that's worth $16 for adults and $11 for children is the question. There's also a pricey gift shop.

The World's Largest Ball of Twine, Kansas

Kansas: Largest Ball of Twine

Cawker City's claim to fame: the world's largest ball of twine. Apparently there's been some competition for that title since the ball was started in 1953. Although it's often cited among the country's best roadside attractions, it hardly seems worth a detour of more than two hours round-trip off the nearest interstate.

Ark Encounter, Kentucky

Kentucky: Ark Encounter

Opened in July 2016, Ark Encounter promises to bring the Biblical story of Noah's Ark to life. The recently completed, wooden replica of the ship was built according to dimensions provided in the Bible — 510 feet long, 85 feet wide, and 51 feet high. Some visitors find the admission prices big as well, especially after construction won government tax breaks: An adult ticket is $60, admission for youngsters is $32, and visitors also pay for parking and activities inside the park, such as a $60 zip line experience. "I don't see how families can afford it," one reviewer writes on TripAdvisor.

Bourbon Street, Louisiana
Sean Pavone/shutterstock

Louisiana: Bourbon Street

It's an iconic destination, yes, but Bourbon Street, in the French Quarter of New Orleans, has become increasingly known for strip clubs, wild parties, tacky offerings, and scammers seeking to separate visitors from their money. Don't want to avoid the historic street altogether? Just do some research, pick your spots ahead of time, and take care to avoid the con artists. Remember, there’s plenty of free fun in the Big Easy

Land's End Gift Shop, Maine
Lauren T./Yelp

Maine: Land's End Gift Shop

Geared entirely toward tourists, the Land's End Gift Shop sells everything from lobster-print pants to lobster keychains and bumper stickers. There are also calendars featuring idyllic New England images, plush animals (including, of course, lobsters), mugs, hats, and other miscellaneous gifts to help visitors remember Maine. Save your money for some real lobster.

God's Ark of Safety, Maryland
God's Ark of Safety, Maryland by GetSomeUtah (CC BY)

Maryland: God's Ark of Safety

The sign for God's Ark of Safety proclaims, "Noah's Ark Being Rebuilt Here!" The plan, more than 30 years in the making, is to build a replica with the same dimensions listed in the Bible. But the ministry building it in Frostburg has managed to erect only a tangle of steel beams so far — and even that's in hold during COVID-19. In the meantime, someone else beat them to it in Kentucky.

Salem, Massachusetts
Salem, Massachusetts by SalemPuritan (CC BY)

Massachusetts: Salem

Wizard schools, ghost tours, and oddball Frankenstein and Dracula "museums" have taken over Salem, once a truly intriguing town. It dates to 1626 and is notorious for holding witch trials that led to the hanging of 19 innocent people. Tourist trap economics have come to trump historical charm, say travel bloggers David and Veronica James, although the Salem Witch Museum is an exception.

Related: The 25 Most Terrifying Places in America

Mystery Spot, Michigan
Molly R./Yelp

Michigan: Mystery Spot

 Said to have been discovered in the 1950s by surveyors who became lightheaded and couldn't get equipment to operate there, the Mystery Spot in St. Ignace (reopening in the spring) seems to mess with gravity, make tall people seem smaller, and cause plenty of other confusing phenomena. Or so they say. You might say it leans heavily on kitsch. It led one Yelper to remark, “The mystery is why did I pay for this?”

Mall of America
Tommy Liggett/shutterstock

Minnesota: Mall of America

The Mall of America attracts 40 million visitors in a typical year with chain stores that most people probably have near their hometowns. Some of the biggest draws have high prices: $50 for a day at Nickelodeon Universe, around $24 at the aquarium, and $28 a person for the Crayola Experience. One saving grace: No tax on clothing in Minnesota.

Mammy's Cupboard, Mississippi
Library of Congress

Mississippi: Mammy's Cupboard

The sight of a roadside restaurant in the shape of a 28-foot-tall woman draws many tourists intrigued at the prospect of eating inside her skirt. But the building is based on an offensive archetype: Mammy's Cupboard dates to 1940, a time not exactly focused on political correctness. Although it was repainted a lighter skin tone during the civil rights era, it remains the subject of much criticism and social debate.

Silver Dollar City, Missouri
Charles J./Yelp

Missouri: Silver Dollar City

A theme park in Branson that opened in 1960, Silver Dollar City is no Disney World. It has 40 rides and plenty of detractors who say it's run-down, not kid-friendly, and not laid out well. At 2020 prices of $89 for adults, it's overpriced to boot.

Lincoln's World-Famous 50,000 Silver $ Bar, Montana

Montana: 50,000 Silver Dollar Bar

The collection of silver dollars on display at the 50,000 Silver Dollar Bar in Haugan was started in 1952, and by now there are coins covering the walls, bar, and ceiling. There's also a family-run restaurant, a motel with free RV parking, a convenience store, casinos, and "Montana's largest gift shop." If you'd like to marvel at other people's money while spending your own, this is the tourist trap for you.

Related: 40 Hole-in-the-Wall Bars That Have Survived the Decades

Carhenge, Nebraska
Edwin Verin/shutterstock

Nebraska: Carhenge

With the real Stonehenge often labeled a tourist trap, it's hard to see the appeal of a replica made from vintage American automobiles painted gray to look like giant stones. Those who have visited Carhenge in Alliance describe it as everything from a step above a junkyard to the perfect Griswold family moment.

Area 51 Alien Travel Center and Brothel, Nevada
Lisa G./Yelp

Nevada: Area 51 Alien Travel Center and Brothel

It's probably not helpful to name the entire city of Las Vegas, even though it's certainly one of the most deliberately designed tourist traps in history. We'll offer up this little gem instead: the Area 51 Alien Travel Center and Brothel in Amargosa Valley. A name that baits tourists with both "alien" and "brothel" really speaks for itself. Close encounters, indeed.

Ice Castles in Lincoln, New Hampshire

New Hampshire: Ice Castles

These human-made ice caverns operate in several locations, including Lincoln, during the winter months. While praised by many for its beauty and fun quotient, many Yelpers have dinged the attraction for having rude staff and others said it just didn’t look as impressive as advertised.

Atlantic City Boardwalk, New Jersey
Sean Pavone/shutterstock

New Jersey: Atlantic City Boardwalk

Tacky. Not a good place for children. In need of refurbishing. These are just some of the downsides of the present incarnation of the Atlantic City Boardwalk, reviewers say. The iconic boardwalk, lined with stores, restaurants, and casinos, dates to 1870 and unfortunately has seen far better days.

Related: 40 Iconic and Beautiful Boardwalks in the Country

UFO Museum and Research Center, New Mexico

New Mexico: International UFO Museum

The town of Roswell has become synonymous with UFOs (thanks to an alleged crash in 1947), but it doesn't have much to offer aside from that claim to fame. The primary highlights for alien fans are the International UFO Museum and Research Center ($7 for adults, $4 for children) and an annual festival.

Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, New York
Madame Tussauds New York/Yelp
World's Largest Chest of Drawers, North Carolina

North Carolina: Largest Chest of Drawers

It's fitting for High Point, known as the home furnishings capital of the world, to be home of the world's largest chest of drawers. Built originally in the 1920s, complete with knobs and giant dangling socks, it served as an information bureau — pun undoubtedly intended. Then a furniture store in Jamestown, a 10-minute drive away, built what looks like an 80-foot chest on the outside of its showroom, somehow diminishing the value of both.

Dakota Magic Casino, North Dakota

North Dakota: Casinos

Don't leave the choice of a North Dakota casino to chance. From Spirit Lake Casino in St. Michael to 4 Bears Casino in New Town and Dakota Magic in Hankinson, visitors complain of a general lack of quality and professionalism at smaller tribal casinos, citing run-down machines, unpleasant atmospheres, and very few winners. "ATM pays out," one customer snarked in an online review. "That's about it."

Related: The 15 Best Casinos NOT in Las Vegas

Mary Yoder's Amish Kitchen, Bakery and Gift Shop, Ohio
Andrew G./Yelp

Ohio: Mary Yoder's Amish Kitchen

Criticism of the cooking at Mary Yoder's Amish Kitchen, Bakery, and Gift Shop in Middlefield is all too common. Reviewers say the food is bland, unappetizing, and overpriced. The gift shop is also expensive, they say, with a warning to stop only if there's nothing else open. But that's easier said than done when the tour bus stops at the restaurant.

Cherokee Trading Post, Oklahoma
James M./Yelp

Oklahoma: Cherokee Trading Post

With a tepee out front and a KOA campground, Cherokee Trading Post near El Reno has "tourist" written all over it. But, hey, if you're in the mood to shop for moccasins and Native American "art," this is the place.

Prehistoric Gardens, Oregon

Oregon: Prehistoric Gardens

Like many tourist traps, Prehistoric Gardens in Port Orford is likely to be irresistible to children, with a life-size Tyrannosaurus at the front gate. But some visitors say it's overpriced, at $14 for adults and $10 for children, and provides less than 15 minutes of entertainment. In an age of "Jurassic Park" films and the dinosaur robots of the George S. Eccles Dinosaur Park in Utah, steel and concrete sculptures may not cut it.

SugarHouse Casino in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
SugarHouse Casino/Yelp

Pennsylvania: Rivers Casino

Philadelphia isn't Las Vegas — it isn't even Atlantic City, which is just an hour away — and tourists shouldn't go to the Rivers Casino (formerly the SugarHouse Casino) expecting a high-rolling experience. Reviews are filled with complaints about slow service in a cramped, cheap-looking structure. "A lackluster, dirty slots barn," one Yelper says.

World's Largest Bug, Rhode Island
Brian S./Yelp

Rhode Island: Big Blue Bug

The Big Blue Bug is a 58-foot termite — 928 times the size of a real one. Designated the world's largest bug, it cost $20,000 to build out of steel and fiberglass. But don't make the mistake of stopping in Providence just to see it. The bug can be appreciated well enough from Interstate 95.

South of the Border, South Carolina
South of the Border, South Carolina by Leonard J. DeFrancisci (CC BY)

South Carolina: South of the Border

Travel review sites are full of mediocre reviews of this cluster of restaurants and shops offering everything from fireworks, knickknacks, and bumper stickers to leather, antiques, and hats. Its towering statue of a sombrero is well-known to road trippers as a place to stretch your legs on a long drive — but nothing more.

Wall Drug Store, South Dakota
Cindy P./Yelp

South Dakota: Wall Drug Store

Wall Drug may have started as a drugstore in 1931, but it has morphed into a classic American tourist trap with a sprawling souvenir shop and eateries that are collectively "crowded, overpriced, and stupid," say travel bloggers David and Veronica James. Countless signs along Interstate 90 make travelers feel as though they absolutely have to stop, but many who do regret it.

Related: 77 Attractions to See While Driving Across the Country

Graceland, Tennessee

Tennessee: Graceland

Elvis has long since left the building, yet his Memphis home continues to rake in oodles of cash from devoted fans. Tickets to Graceland start at $82 for adults and $47 for children and cost at least $140 for a VIP tour. That's not to mention the multiple gift shops on the grounds selling Elvis-themed tchotchkes.

Related: Elvis Had a Pet Chimp and More Fun Facts About Graceland

Devil's Rope Museum, Texas

Texas: Devil's Rope Museum

Devil's Rope Museum in McLean has an intriguing name and free admission, but it may become less interesting when visitors find out that "devil's rope" is barbed wire. That's right: This quirky museum (due to reopen in March) showcases the 450 patents that apparently exist for barbed wire, as well as more than 2,000 variations that have been found by collectors. For some visitors, it's fascinating. For others, it's just fencing.

Utah: Moqui Cave

Utah: Moqui Cave

While $5 for adults is not a lot to pay, for some it's just too much for a "tour" of Moqui Cave that lasts only a few minutes. The cave near Kanab is billed as a natural history museum, but visitors complain that the collection of Native American artifacts, dinosaur tracks, and minerals is paltry at best. They say the attraction is mostly a gift shop — and why pay an entrance fee to shop?

Vermont: Rock of Ages

Vermont: Rock of Ages

It's not worth going far to look at a very pretty hole in the ground that isn't the Grand Canyon. For $9 for adults and $5 for children, Rock of Ages (a company that makes "enduring art" — its euphemism for headstones) takes visitors to a granite quarry and on a factory tour. The visitors center peddles granite gifts and jewelry.

Virginia: Foamhenge

Virginia: Foamhenge

What's the obsession with recreating Stonehenge, exactly? Foamhenge is made entirely of Styrofoam. It was put up on April Fools' Day in 2004, and a dozen years later, when the kitschy sight was falling into disrepair, got picked up and packed up. Foam worshippers will not be denied, though, and Foamhenge was resurrected a year later as an ongoing attraction for Cox Farms in Centreville — for limited hours, on private property. 

Seattle Children's Museum, Washington
Jessie M./Yelp

Washington: Seattle Children's Museum

Visitor reviews of Seattle Children's Museum, along with local media, say the exhibits are far from innovative, many of the toys are similar to what's at home, and exhibits are poorly maintained. For children older than 4, it could easily be deemed a tad boring and not worth the cost of admission, which is $14 for adults and children. 

Farnham Colossi: Paul Bunyan
Farnham Colossi: Paul Bunyan by Katherine Bowman (CC BY)

West Virginia: Farnham Colossi

A perplexing collection of statues at Farnham Fantasy Farm in Unger, the "Farnham Colossi" run the gamut from a 25-foot-tall fiberglass muffler man to a beach dude statue and a Big John bag boy. It's a half-hour off the Interstate (whether 70 or 81) to get to the site of these massive figures. 

Noah's Ark, Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin

Wisconsin: The Dells

The Wisconsin Dells area is a tourist trap to end all tourist traps, with tacky water parks and wacky attractions now divorced from the namesake rock formations that originally drew sightseers. Even a breathless write-up on Roadside America admits, "At times the Dells seems like a ravenous snake, swallowing tourists whole, digesting their lump of vacation energy and disposable income."

Related: The 20 Best Water Parks Across America

Wyoming Frontier Prison, Wyoming

Wyoming: Wyoming Frontier Prison

Tours of the abandoned and crumbling Wyoming Frontier Prison in Rawlins, which opened in 1901 and closed in 1981, include viewing the Punishment Pole, where prisoners were whipped with rubber hoses, and the chance to sit in a real gas chamber. The cost is $12 for adults and $10 for children — in other words, around $40 to $50 for a family with small children to endure weeks of nightmares afterward.

Related: 18 Towns Where You Can Still Experience the Wild West