The Most Overrated Tourist Destinations in the US (and Where to Go Instead)

The Most Overrated Tourist Destinations in the US (and Where to Go Instead)
Photo: Mendenhall Olga, Shutterstock

After rounding up the most overrated tourist destinations outside of the U.S., it’s time to go domestic. We all want to avoid tourist traps, and luckily, avoiding “touristy” experiences is as much a matter of planning as it is destination. Whether or not you’re the kind of traveller who plans every last detail, a little research can go a long way to ensure that you’re not wasting your hard-earned vacation time.

Still, it can be hard to resist famous “bucket list” destinations — even when those attractions end up being overrated. From sea to shining sea, plenty of iconic spots fail to live up to their hype because of long lines, suffocating crowds, and general feelings of “meh” when you see the sights in person. Here are some popular U.S. tourist destinations that are overrated — and some travel ideas that are worth your while.

The most overrated tourist spots in the U.S.

It should go without saying how much of this list comes down to personal preference. This is my insight as to what tourist attractions will truly be worth all your time and money, and what spots will not.

The Statue of Liberty

As much as I love Lady Liberty, you really don’t need to see her up close. I think the best way to experience her is to ride the Staten Island Ferry for free, which will also bring you stunning views of lower Manhattan, Governor’s Island, and Brooklyn Heights.

Plymouth Rock

I cannot emphasise this enough: This rock is just a rock. Seriously. There is no historical evidence confirms that this rock is anything more than what it is, which is a rock. (A rock!)

Disney____

While I’m fascinated by the culture surrounding Disneyland and wasting away waiting in lines, I do not get the appeal of actually visiting. Unless you know that you’re already indoctrinated as a Disney Adult, don’t expect to “get it” once you arrive. To me (and countless others), the Disney theme park experience is a wildly expensive way to spend a long day in a hot crowd. Overrated!

Times Square

New York is full of tourist traps, but Times Square might just take the cake. Maybe it’s worth walking through if you’ve never been, but after one look at a misshapen, underpaid Elmo, you’ll be ready to leave. And by all means, don’t get stuck eating at an overpriced restaurant in Times Square when the city has much better food for much better prices just a few blocks in any direction.

Mount Rushmore

While I’ve never been myself, I’ve heard countless tales of visitors feeling underwhelmed at the sight of those presidents’ heads carved in stone. If you really must see it, most travel blogs will advise you to pad your visit out with far more scenic stops nearby, like Badlands National Park, the Custer Wildlife Loop, or Sylvan Lake.

Niagara Falls (the NY side)

For Niagara, the Canadian views of falls are the better views of the falls. As a bonus, as Lifehacker’s senior health editor Beth Skwarecki pointed out to me, “on the Canadian side a few blocks away there is a whole little tourist trap village with lots of haunted houses and wax museums. No idea if it’s all still there but it was pretty fun and creepy.” Sold.

Myrtle Beach

This notorious South Carolina beach gets called “dirty Myrtle” for a reason. For a much less crowded, polluted, and too-touristy spot, try the close-by Litchfield Beach instead.

Mike’s Pastry vs. Modern Pastry in Boston

In Boston’s North End, Italian restaurants and bakeries line the streets as far as the eye can see. Two bakeries in particular — Mike’s Pastry and Modern Pastry — are at the centre of a longstanding debate over which one offers the best of the best cannoli. The truth is, they’re both really good, and they both also boast extra-long lines. If you’d rather just grab a cannoli and go, there are plenty of high quality cannolis in the surrounding bakeries — or you can skip the debate altogether and opt for the doughnut tour instead.

Santa Monica Pier

It’s overcrowded, run-down, over-priced, and the food is subpar compared to less tourist-y spots in the area. Sadly, the cost of this tourist trap is that the water around Santa Monica Pier is some of the most contaminated in the state.

Bourbon Street

Anyone from New Orleans will assure you that Bourbon Street is not worth your time. In a city with so much culture and history to offer, you’ll find Bourbon Street feels like a frat party that gets real gross, real quick.

Where to visit in the U.S. instead

There’s no shortage of vastly underrated vacation destinations in the country. Here are just a few spots to add to your U.S. bucket list. Whether you’re looking for adventure, solitude, or whatever escape you need — you’ll be able to find it one of the spots below.

  • Lookout Mountain, Ga. Hidden away through the giant boulders at the top is one of the most underrated hide-aways you’ll have ever visited.
  • Bozeman, Mont. A laidback, outdoorsy access point to Big Sky Country.
  • Bear Lake, Idaho. It’s often called the Caribbean of the Rockies because of the teal, bright colour of the water.
  • Asheville, N.C. Get in and visit this Blue Ridge Mountains town now, since Asheville has been turning into more and more of a hot travel spot for underrated Southern towns in recent years.
  • Kennett Square, Pa. This charming, Amish-adjacent spot is the mushroom capital of the world. No, not the drug kind.
  • Anacortes, Wash. If you’re looking for a smaller, chiller version of Portland, Ore., then look into any of the coastal towns in Wash. Anacortes, in particular, is the perfect launching spot for taking the ferry out to San Juan Islands.
  • Charlottesville, Va. So much more than a college town, Charlottesville is also beautiful wine and horse country.
  • West Palm Beach, Fla. If you’re looking for a Miami experience without the toll that Miami brings, try West Palm Beach instead.
  • Portland, Maine. Maybe Portland isn’t even underrated — still, it’s probably not the first “Portland” you picture. The town itself is hip, and you’ll also be able to have a moody moment by a lighthouse or two.
  • Huntsville, Ala. Specifically: The U.S. Space & Rocket Centre is one of the best space museums in the world.
  • Sedona, Ariz. It doesn’t get as much hype as Phoenix, which makes it perfect for your next underrated vacation destination. Sedona, which is known for its red-rock buttes, has some of the most “can’t-miss” sunrises and sunsets in the country — just skip tourist-heavy hikes like the Devil’s Bridge Trail in favour of just-as-scenic-but-less-overrun trails like the Sugarloaf Loop Trail.

As I’ve said before: A good travel experience depends on the traveller more than the destination. Spend a little time online to find the best hours and seasons to plan your visit, and try to gather site-specific tips from all the travel blogs available for free online. Make sure you manage expectations and understand what you’re getting into, wherever you’re going.

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