30 Terrible Tourist Traps That Basically Steal Your Money
Make sure to avoid these overrated attractions.
You're driving down miles of endless highway when out of the blue, giant billboards start advertising an exciting spectacle just ahead. But these roadside attractions aren't an innocent way to stretch your legs—they can also be a sneaky ploy to get you to spend some cash on tacky souvenirs you don't need or on a "historic" site that's seen better days. So whether you're road tripping across the country or stopping in a city, beware these common tourist traps that don't quite live up to the hype. And for more overrated places to avoid, check out the 17 Tourist Traps That Are Totally Not Worth the Effort.
Empire State Building Observation Deck, New York City, NY
The Empire State Building may be an iconic piece of New York architecture, but that doesn't mean the views of the city are best from the top. It's a whopping $42 to get access to the 86th floor and a completely insane $72 for the 102nd top deck. Save your money and head to 230 Fifth Rooftop Bar a few blocks away for the same view, or hit the 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge rooftop, which overlooks the East River, One World Trade, and Statue of Liberty in the distance.
Graceland, Memphis, TN
If you're a die-hard Elvis fan, you may get a kick out of his quirky mansion in Memphis. For everyone else, entrance to the estate costs a cool $42.50 or the Elvis Experience Tour will set you back $63, and includes exhibits showcasing his car collection, wardrobe, and gold records. The entire complex looks straight out of Disney, with a retro '50s diner and tourists wearing giant iPads around their necks to watch the virtual tour. Instead, you may want to check out the Memphis Rock N' Soul Museum for a much more affordable $13 ticket.
Ice Rink at Rockefeller Center, New York City, NY
Although it's made a cameo in pretty much every winter movie set in New York City, the ice rink at Rockefeller Center is a tourist hotspot. Like the rest of Manhattan, it's super packed and extremely expensive, with a session on the ice, plus skate rental at $38 for adults.
Space Needle, Seattle, WA
Seattle is expensive enough—you don't need to pay $32.50 to get some aerial views of the city. Take that money to a rooftop bar, one where you can see the Space Needle in the background (that's much more impressive for the 'gram, anyway). One of our favorites is The Nest, which is perched on top of the Thompson Hotel with views of Elliott Bay and the Olympic Mountains.
World of Coca-Cola, Atlanta, GA
Sure, Coca-Cola's recipe might be incredibly secretive, but you don't think they're going to give the details away during a tour, do you? While you will approach the vault that allegedly holds the recipe, general admission for adults runs $17, making this a pricey family stop just to take in some Coke propaganda, watch a replica bottling line, and taste a lot of sugary drinks. We say pocket the money, grab a cold Coke if you're really craving one, and put those dollars to better use at a local brewery tour instead.
St. Ignace Mystery Spot, MI
Despite its confusing name, there's not much mystery here. To tour the hokey spot—which is said to cause unexplainable happenings like lightheadedness—adults will have to pay $9 and kids are charged $7. The attraction also has mini golf, a maze, and a zipline (for an extra cost, of course). And for more surprising stops, check out the 33 Best Roadside Attractions in America.
Buffalo Bill Grave and Museum, Golden, CO
This grave has somehow been around since 1921, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's good. You're paying $5 per adult to check out a bronze casket sealed in a concrete case that is surrounded by a theft-deterrent fence. Not much to see here, folks.
Area 51 Alien Travel Center, Amargosa Valley, NV
Along Highway 95 (known as the Extraterrestrial Highway) outside Vegas, you'll hit this strange travel center. The complex has an alien-themed gas station, souvenir shop (alien jerky, anyone?), tattoo parlor, and, ahem, a brothel. There's also a fireworks warehouse next door, as if that's not warning enough.
O.K. Corral, Tombstone, AZ
If the name isn't enough of a deterrent, Tombstone, Arizona, will quickly turn you away with its cheesy Wild West reenactments. For $10, you can watch a fake 30-second gunfight shootout at the O.K. Corral, a livery and horse corral in the late 19th century. Even the Tombstone Chamber of Commerce has debated whether it's a tourist trap or not.
Crater of Diamonds, Murfreesboro, AR
This state park may be one of the only places where tourists can dig for their own gemstones, but in reality, it's actually a 37-acre dirt field where people have been blindly searching for treasure since 1906. Although the chances of finding anything are almost impossible, tourists were given renewed hope when a schoolteacher found a three-carat diamond in 2019. Still, given the odds, it's not really worth the five-hour round-trip drive from Little Rock or the $10 mine admission fee.
South of the Border, Hamer, SC
You'll see this place coming: Around 175 cringe-worthy billboards advertise the South of the Border from Virginia to Georgia. The stop originated as a place to pick up some beer, but since it opened in 1949, it's grown into 350 acres of run-down motel rooms, a 200-foot sombrero-shaped observation tower, an RV campground, an amusement park called Pedroland (yikes), and what's billed as America's largest indoor reptile park.
Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco, CA
Fisherman's Wharf is more about selling a version of San Francisco than being an authentic experience of the city. Expect lots of souvenir shops and overpriced seafood restaurants no local would ever go to. This is a place that's all about the tourist-consumer versus someone who actually wants to take in the Bay Area's far more interesting culture. (But do go peek at the sea lions off Pier 39.)
Waikiki Beach, Oahu, HI
Waikiki Beach may look like paradise at first glance, but it's really just a long stretch of expensive chain hotels and sunburnt bodies baking on the sand. Avoid the sugary tropical drinks and Hawaiian shirts by going to a more remote island in the archipelago, such as Kauai, Molokai, or Lanai.
Quincy Market, Boston, MA
Even Eater Boston has called this a tourist trap: The food court in Faneuil Hall is always packed and has plenty of mediocre (especially for the price) food options. That being said, there are a few gems in the food hall, like the pepperoni slice at Pizzeria Regina's or the clam chowder at Boston Chowda Co.
Epcot, Orlando, FL
Expect a lot of globally-themed restaurants and gift shops at Epcot, which also has little to offer in the way of rides for Disneygoers. A one-day, one-park ticket to get into Epcot costs an astronomical $109 per person. That's really not worth it for a plateful of American (read: fried) versions of international food. However, it is the only park in the crowded, long-lined complex that sells booze, so we'll call that a small silver lining. And for more Disney deals, find out Which Is Cheaper, Disneyland or Disney World?
"The Thing," Benson, AZ
You'll see billboards from miles away hyping up "The Thing," a remote gas station, souvenir shop, and Dairy Queen. The main attraction is the 12,000-square-foot museum, which displays a string of pretty random objects and taxidermy that are woven into a narrative of conspiracies involving aliens and dinosaurs. To see it for yourself, be prepared to shell out $5 per person or $10 for the whole family.
Santa Claus House, North Pole, AK
A 20-minute drive from Fairbanks, the town of North Pole keeps the spirit of Christmas alive. The avenues have names like Santa Claus Lane, Blitzen, and Holiday Road, and street lights are reminiscent of candy canes. Although the Santa Claus House is billed as the official home of St. Nick, it's actually more of a Christmas-themed gift shop where you can buy a customizable letter from Santa for $15 or a fake deed of North Pole land for $10.
Beale Street, Memphis, TN
The only time to come here is during the Beale Street Music Festival each May, which attracts names like Leon Bridges, Lil Wayne, The Avett Brothers, and The Lumineers. Otherwise, it's a touristy street in town with neon lines and tipsy tourists stumbling out of dive bars, overpriced beers in hand.
World's Largest Ball of Twine, Cawker City, KS
Four hours outside of Kansas City, you'll find the most random sight: a gigantic ball of twine. No one was necessarily asking for a record-setting ball of twine (and the title is surprisingly contested), but people still gather every August to add more layers to it.
Times Square, New York, NY
If you've never been to New York City, you may be drawn to the twinkling lights of Times Square. But the area is often avoided by locals as its cigarette-studded sidewalks are crowded with selfie stick-touting tourists and costumed characters who swindle you into pictures (for a price). You'll also want to watch out for the people handing out flyers or "discount tickets" for comedy clubs, broadway shows, and other entertainment. Hint: It's not really a deal.
Plymouth Rock, Plymouth, MA
You get what's advertised here: Plymouth Rock is literally a small rock, stamped with the year pilgrims stepped foot on well, the aforementioned rock (1620, to be precise). It sits in a fenced-in section of sand, so the photo op isn't great either. You'll also want to avoid the line of shops selling New England sweatshirts and pilgrim paraphernalia.
Corn Palace, Mitchell, SD
This happens to be the only corn palace left in the world. There used to be far more, back when Midwestern towns used to build their own corn palaces to show off how good they were at growing this important crop. While the construction is actually kind of impressive, with a new mural every year, this photo-op-plus-gift-shop in downtown Mitchell is a place to take a picture and then get back on the highway. Unless you make a stop at the Bible Land park across the street, that is. Note: The palace is free to enter, but wristbands for the carnival rides cost $24.
The Desert of Maine, Freeport, ME
Not even technically a real desert, this grand-sounding spot is actually just a patch of sand in an otherwise forest-y state caused by a guy who didn't know how to rotate his crops properly. In time, his topsoil eroded, he had to give up the farm, and some other dude bought the property in 1919 for $1 an acre and opened it as a tourist attraction six years later. Today, the Desert of Maine charges a $10 admission fee, which includes a 35-minute guided tour.
Four Corners, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, UT
This plaque recessed in the ground makes for a great Instagram, given that you can go into Twister mode and put one limb in each state, but chances are quite a few others have the same idea. It's a "do it to say you did it" sort of thing but a long drive away from anywhere to justify it as a below-average photo op. To access the site, you'll need to fork over $5 to $10 and avoid being suckered by vendors selling overpriced trinkets.
Bourbon Street, New Orleans, LA
The French Quarter is undeniably beautiful, hence why so many people flock to the New Orleans area. However, the main road, Bourbon Street, falls into trap territory thanks to its average restaurant chains, overpriced bars, and crowds drunk off of too many boozy hurricanes. If that's not your scene, head to St. Claude Avenue or Frenchmen Street instead.
The Strip, Las Vegas, NV
If you want to burn a hole in your back pocket, well, welcome to Vegas, baby. Casinos are purposely created to encourage spending money, and The Strip was built to house the biggest and the best gaming rooms. In fact, the average person spends $200 to $250 a day in Las Vegas. Yes, the shows are mesmerizing, there's glamour (if you're looking for it), and the lights are distracting, but you know you're there to drop some cash.
Mall of America, Minneapolis, MN
Unless this is truly a logical option for you to get some shopping done, there's no need to make a consumerist pilgrimage to this sprawling shopping center. Mall of America attracts 40 million annual visitors—one in four of which are tourists who come for its more than 520 stores and the Nickelodeon Universe amusement park ($38 wristband).
Atlantic City Boardwalk, Atlantic City, NJ
There are plenty of neglected boardwalks in the United States, but the most notorious one is in Atlantic City. A Ripley's Believe It Or Not ($17 adult admission) is right on the boardwalk and has long been a signal of nearby tourist traps, from souvenir shops to beach cafes with underwhelming menus.
Wall Drug, Wall, SD
Wall Drug is known for being the "home of free ice water," which was probably great in the days before insulated water bottles, but today this cowboy-themed shopping complex is a tourist trap of stuff. The 76,000-square-foot warehouse features a drug store and labyrinthine gift shop selling a $10 bottle of Black Hills honey and a $30 magnetic map.
Hollywood Walk of Fame, Los Angeles, CA
According to a survey by Stasher ranking the world's worst tourist traps, the Hollywood Walk of Fame landed at a well-deserved spot right at the very bottom. Expect to be surrounded by buskers as you search for your favorite celeb's star and get jostled by other tourists, with just a picture of some dirty pavement to show for it.