I-10 | The Alamo
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50 Tourist Traps That Locals Still Love

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I-10 | The Alamo
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Simply Irresistible

As a tourist, it's tough to separate must-see attractions from those that just leave your wallet a little emptier. Businesses in every state try to lure out-of-towners with promises of family fun and unusual sights, but only a select few of these unabashed tourist traps are enticing enough to draw locals.


Related: Watch Out for These Tourist Traps in All 50 States

Alcatraz Island, San Francisco
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Pike Place Market, Seattle
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Pike Place Market

Seattle
One of the nation's oldest continuously operating farmers markets, this multilevel shopping district in downtown Seattle draws 10 million annual visitors for its vast collection of local grocers, craftsmen, eateries, and specialty shops. Even residents who don't work near Pike Place Market return for the fresh fish, fresh-baked pastries, and happy hour spots within its labyrinthine levels.


Related: Fascinating Places Where Tourists Aren't Welcome

Mars Cheese Castle
Mars Cheese Castle by jpellgen (@1179_jp) (CC BY-NC-ND)

Mars Cheese Castle

Kenosha, Wisconsin
Like the state in which it resides, Wisconsin's Mars Cheese Castle is most famous for its cheese, though the roadside landmark also sells tasty sausages, loaves of bread, and Danish "kringle" pastries. The stately building is a one-stop shop for dairy lovers, offering free samples of meats and cheeses alongside unique souvenirs like the state's iconic cheesehead hats.


Related: Amazing Tourist Attractions That No Longer Exist

Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles
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Griffith Observatory

Los Angeles
This Los Angeles landmark is famous for its views and its appearance in several Hollywood classics, though not so much for its fascinating scientific exhibits, including a giant Tesla coil and regular planetarium shows. Residents know the observatory's parking lot also allows access to miles of scenic hiking trails through the hilly chaparral north of Hollywood in one of America's best urban parks.

Grand Central Terminal, New York
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Grand Central Terminal

New York
Beyond its 44 platforms, Manhattan's historic rapid transit hub has more than 50 places to buy food and nearly as many retail shops, all contained within an intricate architectural marvel even New Yorkers can't resist gawking at. Like many of the city's most popular attractions, Grand Central Terminal is a thrilling hub of activity with a rich history revealed through audio or docent-led tours.

Discovery Cove in Orlando, FL
Discovery Cove in Orlando, FL by Michael Lowin (CC BY)

Discovery Cove

Orlando, Florida
This theme park distinguishes itself from fierce competition with limited daily attendance, allowing for a more intimate experience, plus a host of activities, such as 30-minute dolphin swims, that put visitors face-to-face with friendly marine animals and exotic birds. All-inclusive stays cost less for Florida residents and come with free equipment rentals and freshly prepared meals.

Silver Dollar City, Branson, Missouri
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Silver Dollar City

Branson, Missouri
Branson's most popular attraction is an 1880s-set theme park in the Ozark wilderness showcasing the area's history and natural scenery alongside its roller coaster and other amusement rides. Visitors can have more time for rides and craft demonstrations by buying the three-day, two-park access ticket for $119 each adult, only $30 more than the one-day tickets.

Cedar Point, Sandusky, Ohio
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Cedar Point

Sandusky, Ohio
Thrill-seekers from near and far come to Ohio's Cedar Point for its legendary roller coasters. In 2018, it introduced Steel Vengeance, billed as the tallest, fastest, and longest hybrid roller coaster in the world. Located on a peninsula jutting into Lake Erie, the area also includes the Cedar Point Shores water park and a mile-long stretch of white sand beach.

Jackson Square, New Orleans
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Jackson Square

New Orleans
Though Bourbon Street offers little more than overpriced cocktails, the French Quarter's other hub of tourist activity is a beautiful square beside the Mississippi River, teeming with local artists selling their wares and brass bands enticing passersby to dance along. Don't leave without a stop at the landmark Café du Monde, famous for its coffee and powdered-sugar-covered beignets, which are among the many budget-friendly pleasures to enjoy in the Big Easy.

The Spotted Cat Music Club, New Orleans
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The Spotted Cat Music Club

New Orleans
One of New Orleans' most-visited music venues, The Spotted Cat doesn't let the tourist crowds distract from its all-day showcases of the city's best musicians, most of them playing jazz but with endless variations on the genre. The bar also offers local craft beers and just enough space for anyone to try their hand at swing-dancing.

Robert's Western World on Broadway, Nashville TN
Robert's Western World on Broadway, Nashville TN by Kelly Loris (None)

Robert's Western World

Nashville, Tennessee
This honky-tonk in Music City's gaudy historic district features live country music from both big names and unknowns seven nights a week, without ever charging a fee for entry. Robert's Western World draws crowds of residents and tourists for its boot-kicking lineups, bright neon signage, and famous fried bologna sandwiches for only $6.

Celestial Seasonings, Boulder, Colorado
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Celestial Seasonings

Boulder, Colorado
This tea company on the outskirts of Boulder offers a factory tour far more interesting than most, especially considering it's free. Visitors sample hot and iced teas in the waiting area, then begin a 45-minute tour going through the entire tea-making process with a nasal-decongesting detour to "the mint room." The finished teas can be bought at the onsite Celestial Café or its gift shop. (Note: Celestial Seasonings has temporarily closed its tour center, cafe, and tea shop until further notice in response to COVID-19.)

Sugarbush Farm, Woodstock, Vermont
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Sugarbush Farm

Woodstock, Vermont
On the outskirts of Woodstock, a Vermont village popular with tourists for its picturesque town square, lies this hillside farm offering the culinary bounties for which the state is famous — namely, cheese, and maple syrup. Visitors are free to browse the gift shop or roam the grounds to visit with farm animals, enjoy seasonal vistas, and learn about making maple syrup via its self-guided sugarhouse tour.

Ben's Chili Bowl, Washington, D.C.
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Ben's Chili Bowl

Washington
Even Barack Obama can't deny the delicious appeals of this landmark Washington restaurant, which was founded in 1958 and played an important part as a gathering place for police and protesters during the late-1960s race riots. Ben's Chili Bowl retains most of its original look as well as beloved specialties like its "half-smoke" sausages ($7.69).

Ponce City Market, Atlanta
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Ponce City Market

Atlanta
Though previously used as a city hall and Sears-Roebuck regional office, this enormous Atlanta structure is now home to a sprawling market for food vendors and specialty shops in the tradition of Seattle's Pike Place. The Central Food Hall features freshly made local delicacies and international cuisines from famous purveyors, while "The Roof" has live entertainment, mini-golfing and boardwalk-style amusements.

Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, Minneapolis
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Minneapolis Sculpture Garden

Minneapolis
There's more to this outdoor attraction than the iconic "Spoonbridge and Cherry" sculpture, including more than 40 permanent installations and several rotating ones scattered throughout its 11 acres. The Sculpture Garden draws locals for its free admission to seasonal botanical displays in the Cowles Conservatory and free first-Saturday garden parties.

International Rose Test Garden, Portland, Oregon
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International Rose Test Garden

Portland, Oregon
It's easy to understand Portland's nickname "City of Roses" in this colorful section of Washington Park, where hundreds of varieties of roses bloom from April through October, many of them sent from all corners of the world. With views of Mount Hood on clear days, the garden is a relaxing area for a stroll, with the nearby gift shop offering all manner of garden accessories and rose-themed souvenirs.

Giacomo's, Boston
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Giacomo's

Boston
Boston's North End is known for being the city's oldest residential community and for its concentration of authentic Italian-American eateries, perhaps none more distinguished than Giacomo's. Reservations aren’t available, so there's usually a line to get in, but the prompt service makes it easy to enjoy the unparalleled seafood pastas without feeling rushed.

Newport Cliff Walk, Newport, Rhode Island
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Newport Cliff Walk

Newport, Rhode Island
The Rhode Island town of Newport is famous among tourists for its collection of opulent mansions once belonging to 19th-century elites. Interior tours start at $25 for adults, but it's free to see them via the Cliff Walk, a public access walkway between the summer cottages and rocky shoreline that ends beside a beach and seafood-centric snack bar.

Reading Terminal Market, Philadelphia
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Reading Terminal Market

Philadelphia
This Philadelphia landmark has been home to many of the city's best culinary offerings since it opened in 1893. Today, diverse homemade specialties both Amish and international in origin can be found among the Reading Terminal Market's vendor stalls. Those wanting to taste an iconic Philly cheesesteak will find several places to find one, including Carmen’s, which has specialized in cheesteaks and hoagies for nearly 40 years.

Mount Washington Cog Railway, Mount Washington, New Hampshire
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Mount Washington Cog Railway

Mount Washington, New Hampshire
The best way to reach the top of Mount Washington — the tallest peak in New England — is by this National Historic Engineering Landmark, the world's first-constructed and second-steepest rack-and-pinion railway. The ride is slow but scenic, with the magnificent views varying based on the season, and ends at a summit featuring a snack bar, gift shops, and a weather museum.

Mark Twain House & Museum, Hartford, CT
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Mark Twain House & Museum

Hartford, Connecticut
Though strongly associated with the Mississippi River, celebrated author and humorist Mark Twain wrote his most well-known novels while living at his home in Connecticut, described by his biographer as "part steamboat, part medieval fortress, and part cuckoo clock." The 25-room structure hosts living history tours ($24 for adults) as well as educational programs and author appearances throughout the year.

Alligator Farm Zoological Park, St. Augustine, Florida
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Alligator Farm Zoological Park

St. Augustine, Florida
Beginning in the 19th century, this St. Augustine attraction grew from a small exhibition of Floridian reptiles to a modern zoo featuring lemurs, pythons, and exotic birds, in addition to all currently recognized crocodilian species. Visitors  can observe wildlife shows like the feeding of 1,250-pound croc Maximo. General admission is $34 for adults, and two zip line tours of the park are available, starting at $38.

Polynesian Cultural Center, Laie, Hawaii
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Polynesian Cultural Center

Laie, Hawaii
This popular attraction on Oahu's North Shore aims to show visitors what life used to be like for islanders in the South Pacific, with 42 acres of lush rainforest and cultural demonstrations based on differing island cultures taking place throughout the day. Each day ends with a luau feast and a fire-spinning, storytelling show called Ha: Breath of Life.

I-10 | The Alamo
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The Alamo

San Antonio
This landmark of the Texas Revolution is visited by more than 2.5 million people each year. Free to visit, the several remaining structures are fully supported by donations and proceeds from the gift shop. The historic site in downtown San Antonio is near the River Walk and hailed as a must-see attraction in TripAdvisor reviews.

The Kentucky Bourbon Trail, Kentucky
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The Kentucky Bourbon Trail

Kentucky
Though the Kentucky Bourbon Trail became recognized as such only recently, the route still leads motorists through rich pockets of Southern history on its way between many of the nation's most celebrated bourbon distilleries. Visitors and locals can enjoy limestone falls and other natural scenery in between guided tours and whiskey tastings from distillers such as Evan Williams, Jim Beam, Maker's Mark, and Bulleit.

Mystery Spot, Santa Cruz, California
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Mystery Spot

Santa Cruz, California
You'll spot many cars in California brandishing a bumper sticker from this Santa Cruz roadside attraction, where the regular rules of physics and gravity seem to not apply. Before exploring the site's disproportioned structures and tilted surfaces that make balls roll uphill, guests can enjoy a 30-minute hiking trail through coastal redwoods.

Flying Horses Carousel, Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts
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Flying Horses Carousel

Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts
The nation's oldest working carousel was uprooted from its original location at Coney Island, but continues to run today in Oak Bluffs on Martha's Vineyard. Just beside the ferry dock, adults can admire the 20 hand-carved horses featuring genuine horsehair for their manes and tails, while children can ride the antique carousel built in 1876 and try to grab the ride's lucky brass ring.

High Roller, Las Vegas
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High Roller

Las Vegas
This ride on the Las Vegas Strip opened in 2014 as the world's tallest Ferris wheel, measuring 520 feet in diameter. Though built just to draw business to The Linq hotel and casino, the High Roller is worth at least one ride (starting at $22 for adults) to appreciate its unusual design and unparalleled views of Sin City.

San Diego Zoo Safari Park, San Diego
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San Diego Zoo Safari Park

San Diego
This more remote extension of the San Diego Zoo is an 1,800-acre showcase of rare or endangered species from nearly every continent roaming free-range environments. Zip lines, jungle-ropes courses, and caravan tours help visitors get close-up views of the animals. Locals can buy a $119 membership providing a full-year's access to both the Zoo and Safari Park with no blockout dates.

Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave, Golden, Colorado
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Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave

Golden, Colorado
Half the reason to visit the gravesite of Old West icon William F. Cody is the scenic view from its location on Lookout Mountain in the Rocky foothills west of Denver (though some still claim he's buried in Wyoming). Lined with antique artifacts and historic photos, the museum itself is still a worthwhile tribute to this colorful character that popularized Wild West vaudeville performances.

Dollywood, Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
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Dollywood

Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
Dolly Parton's Tennessee theme park is as much about celebrating Smoky Mountain culture as it is about the standard thrill rides and waterslides. When the park is open from March to December, a day never goes by without several theatrical, musical or vaudevillian performances happening alongside craft activities such as glassblowing, candle making, and woodcarving.

Lava Hot Springs, Lava Hot Springs, Idaho
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Lava Hot Springs

Lava Hot Springs, Idaho
Not far from the highway connecting Salt Lake City and Yellowstone, this tiny Idaho town attracts visitors from near and far for its chemical-free mineral hot springs heated perfectly to 102-112 degrees Fahrenheit. Admission to the year-round springs is $10 or less, and it costs only slightly more to include a visit to the Olympic swimming complex or indoor aquatic center.

Harpers Ferry Historical Park, Harpers Ferry, West Virginia
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Harpers Ferry Historical Park

Harpers Ferry, West Virginia
This West Virginia town is most famous for its role in the Civil War, and the national historic site lets visitors see the remnants of that period and relive highlights via guided tours, historic trade workshops, and living history weekends. There is also a John Brown Wax Museum, which tells the story of the historic raid on Harpers Ferry. Plus, there are more than 20 miles of hiking trails and recreational waterways exploring pristine Appalachian wilderness and historic battlegrounds.

Strataca, Hutchinson, Kansas
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Strataca

Hutchinson, Kansas
This museum is built within a 27,000-square-mile salt deposit in south-central Kansas, allowing anyone to explore salt deposits 650 feet underground and 275 million years old. It's the nation's only salt mine accessible to tourists, and includes exhibits on mining and geology as well as darkened tram rides and unique events like murder-mystery dinner theaters.

Da Yoopers
Da Yoopers by gelle.dk (CC BY-NC)

Da Yoopers Tourist Trap

Ishpeming, Michigan
At the very least, this tourist trap on Michigan's remote Upper Peninsula (or U.P.) is both disarmingly honest and surprisingly charming. The grounds are scattered with amusing "innovation displays" of giant motorized tricycles and other innovations from U.P. natives. Inside, visitors can find a gift shop stocked with well-priced rare minerals, jewelry, and all other varieties of U.P.-made souvenirs.

Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, Jackson, Wyoming
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Million Dollar Cowboy Bar

Jackson, Wyoming
Locals and out-of-towners congregate at this Wild West-themed bar in Jackson, a Wyoming hub for visitors to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. Sit on a horse-saddle stool, sample the buffalo burger, or try square-dancing on the floor while perusing the restaurant's displays of pine architecture and taxidermy.

Wall Drug Store, Wall, South Dakota
Wall Drug Store, Wall, South Dakota by jshyun (CC BY-NC-ND)

Wall Drug Store

Wall, South Dakota
A true tourist trap, this South Dakota drugstore started attracting out-of-town motorists in 1936 with the simple promise of free ice water, plastered across multiple roadside billboards. Now the Wall Drug Store is an enormous kitschy complex known for its Western-themed souvenir shops and the Western Art Gallery Restaurant offering homemade doughnuts, buffalo burgers, and 5-cent coffee.

The Cliff House, San Francisco
The Cliff House, San Francisco by Brocken Inaglory (CC BY)

The Cliff House

 San Francisco
Perched on a cliff overlooking the Pacific, San Francisco's best restaurant with a view closed in late 2020, falling victim to COVID-19 and a lease dispute. The National Park Service, which owns the property, hopes to find a new tenant to run the restaurant, but until then, visitors can take in "Naiad Cove," an exhibit of Cliff House memorabilia. Tickets are free, but registration is required. 


Related: Beloved Restaurants and Bars That Closed Permanently During the Pandemic

Hoover Dam, Boulder City, Nevada
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Hoover Dam

Boulder City, Nevada
Any visitor to the Hoover Dam will want to take one of the guided tours exploring and explaining this impressive feat of engineering and the attached power plant for $30. But it's worth paying the $10 parking fee just to enjoy the human-made view overlooking the Black Canyon of the Colorado River.

Navy Pier, Chicago
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Navy Pier

Chicago
Navy Pier encompasses more than 50 acres of shops, eateries, and other attractions, all eagerly hoping to separate tourists from their hard-earned cash. But the lakeside market attracts locals as well for its array of shops and restaurants, indoor ice-skating rink, and free community events such as summer concerts, firework displays, and a Labor Day weekend lobster festival.

Mall of America, Bloomington, Minnesota
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Mall of America

Bloomington, Minnesota
Minnesota's top attraction, the Mall of America is essentially 1,000 tourist traps wrapped into one. The 96-acre mall includes a Benihana, the Sea Life Minnesota aquarium, the FlyOver America ride, and Nickelodeon Universe, the nation's first indoor family theme park. Don't neglect the retail stores either, as the mall charges no sales tax on clothing. It's also a great place to snap pictures.

The Santa Claus House, North Pole, Alaska
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The Santa Claus House

North Pole, Alaska
The town of North Pole, Alaska, embraces its holiday-themed name at this candy cane-colored cabin near Fairbanks, marked by a 50-foot-tall Santa statue. The retail store features holiday-themed gifts and more general made-in-Alaska souvenirs, and community events recur throughout the year, the most famous being the "Christmas in Ice" contest whose sculptures that decorate the grounds beginning in November.


Related: From Santa Claus to Mistletoe: 20 Towns With Festive Names

Mackinac Island, Michigan
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Mackinac Island

Mackinac Island, Michigan
Cultural events, historic architecture, and fragrant fudge shops draw summer visitors to this car-free resort island between Michigan's upper and lower peninsulas each year. Mackinac's main square is always crowded with souvenir shops and horse-drawn carriages, but the best way to see the area is with a bike ride around the island's 8-mile perimeter trail.

Nevada State Museum , Carson City, Nevada
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Nevada State Museum

Carson City, Nevada
Located within a stately building that formerly held the Carson City Mint, the Nevada State Museum has an impressive diversity of exhibits, including a walk-through replica of a ghost town, the world's first-ever slot machine, and an award-winning "Under One Sky" exhibit devoted to the state's Native American heritage. Admission is $10, or free for those 17 and under.

Fort Worth Stockyards, Fort worth, Texas
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Fort Worth Stockyards

Fort Worth, Texas
Fort Worth embraces its reputation as where the West begins at this national historic district devoted to Texas's livestock industry. Kitschy Old West souvenir shops, Tex-Mex restaurants, barbecue pits, and old-fashioned saloons abound, but the biggest draw is undoubtedly the world's only twice-daily cattle drive.

Tinkertown Museum, Sandia Park, New Mexico
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Tinkertown Museum

Sandia Park, New Mexico
This collection of meticulously displayed miniatures is all the more impressive for being the work of one man. Ross Ward turned his two-room home into a 22-room funhouse cluttered with hand-carved animated figurines acting out scenes within walls made from glass bottles and surrounded by wagon wheels, a 35-foot antique sailboat, exhibits from defunct roadside attractions, and other kitschy Americana artifacts you'd expect to find along Route 66. Admission is $6 for adults; $3 for kids 4-16.

Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, Colorado and New Mexico
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Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad

Colorado and New Mexico
The highest steam railroad in the nation winds through deep gorges and cross the 10,015-foot-high Cumbres Pass on its scenic route through northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. Though prices are a bit steep, starting at $90 per adult for a coach seat, the ride includes a buffet lunch and otherwise inaccessible vistas of the southern Rockies.

Disneyland, Anaheim, California
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Disneyland

Anaheim, California
The only theme park built under the direction of Walt Disney himself, the flagship park of Anaheim's Disneyland Resort features an attention to detail in its rides and waiting areas that is rarely surpassed. Even locals can't resist famous rides such as the Matterhorn and Space Mountain, though they can save money or time by buying discounted multiday passes.


Related: 18 Expensive Mistakes to Avoid at Disney

Adventure Park at Sandy Spring, Sandy Spring, Maryland
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Adventure Park at Sandy Spring

Sandy Spring, Maryland
The world's largest human-made outdoor climbing adventure lies less than an hour outside Washington, boasting 29 zip lines and almost 200 challenge bridges color-coded by difficulty level. The Adventure Park is most popular in summer, but residents are able to explore the treetop courses in any season, with three-hour climbing tickets beginning at $60 weekdays for adults.