The 7 Biggest Tourist Traps to Avoid in the U.S.
You don't want to waste your money at these well-known tourist attractions.
Certain destinations in the U.S. attract big crowds for a reason—they're either home to a famous landmark, known for delicious delicacies, or a great spot to take in the scenery. But some may not be worth the hype. If you're not familiar with the area you're visiting or haven't done your research, you may be lured into one of these tourist trap and end up wasting both time and money. Thankfully, travel experts have some words of wisdom about the most notorious spots in the U.S. that you need to avoid. Read on to find out which sites and streets they say you should skip.
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Waikiki Beach – Honolulu, Hawaii
Many of us dream of getting a chance to explore Hawaii, but Lisa Shehan, travel blogger behind Wanderlust With Lisa, cautions you against spending too much time at the well-known Waikiki Beach.
"Once you get there, you're met with heavy crowds and commercialization," Shehan says."It's worth a quick stop to say you've seen it, but it is not worth spending the day relaxing or surfing here. If you're looking to experience real Hawaiian culture, you certainly won't find it at Waikiki. Instead, spend your time exploring the rest of Oahu for a more authentic experience."
If you still want to soak up the sun, check out Kailua Beach or Lanikai Beach. "Both are on the east coast of Oahu and feature views of Mokal Island. They're less crowded than Waikiki and far less commercialized," Shehan says.
Surfers should head to the North Shore instead.
"My favorite is Sunset Beach, which features massive waves in the wintertime!" Shehan notes. "Waikiki may be known for its surfing, but you'll be surprised to see smaller waves and lots of beginners taking lessons here!"
Times Square – New York City
New York City is a pretty common bucket list travel destination, offering so much to do and see. However, if you find yourself in Midtown Manhattan, avoid Times Square at all costs, travel experts say.
"People come from all across the globe to walk through Times Square," Larry Snider, vice president of operations for Redwood Vacation Rentals, says. "There isn't a single moment of downtime in that small part of NYC. Different times of year are more popular than others, but even during a snowstorm, Time Square is overcrowded with tourists trying to fill up their Instagram with selfies."
Instead, Jeremy Albelda, travel blogger and creator of TheWorldorBust.com, recommends checking out Brooklyn's Dumbo neighborhood. "With stunning views of the Manhattan skyline, delicious food, and unique shops, it's a great alternative," he says.
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The Space Needle – Seattle
Another touristy site that's not worth your time is the Space Needle in Seattle.
"Despite the iconic shape and its panoramic views from the top, it's not worth the money you pay," says Kristin Lee, travel expert and owner of the travel blog Global Travel Escapades. "An adult ticket costs $32.50 to $39, which makes you feel as though you've been scammed for essentially an elevator ride up and views of the city from more than 500 feet up."
Looking for another option to fill your days in this city? Take Lee's advice and visit the Sky View Observatory at Columbia Center, which is sometimes called the Columbia Tower.
"An admission ticket to the top of this tower costs $20 if you're a Washington resident and only a few dollars more if you're not. In addition, the Columbia Tower offers visitors views from 902 feet up, making it the tallest public observatory in the Pacific Northwest," Lee says.
She notes that the experience is more enjoyable than the Space Needle, too. "Ascending to the top of the tower is an experience in and of itself," Lee explains. "As you ride 73 floors up in an elevator, one of the staff members will tell you about the building and its history as you watch a visual show on the walls of the elevator."
Bourbon Street – New Orleans
If you're looking for some good Southern fun and rich history, New Orleans is the place for you. This Louisiana city has it all: wonderful restaurants, plenty of tours and experiences, and lively nightlife. But according to Jessica Schmit, of the travel blog Uprooted Traveler, you can skip the main drag.
"While the French Quarter in New Orleans is incredible, the famed Bourbon Street can definitely be missed," she tells Best Life. "This famous street is full of stands selling overpriced and saccharin drinks and lots and lots of drunk tourists."
Schmit suggests checking out Decatur or Royal Street, both of which are just a few blocks away from Bourbon. "[These have] all of the great architecture and energy, but with less touristy vibes," she says.
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Niagara Falls – Niagara Falls, New York
Waterfalls are certainly a site to see—and Niagara Falls is one of the more well-known locations in the U.S. But according to Fred Hoffman, professional camper, avid traveler, and founder and chief editor at The True Wilderness, the falls are actually a natural tourist trap.
"Located on the border of Canada and New York, Niagara Falls boasts a large waterfall that attracts millions of visitors each year. Unfortunately, while visitors come for the majestic views and exciting experiences, they often leave with numerous regrets due to its overwhelming commercialization," Hoffman explains.
He adds: "The site is lined with souvenir shops, tacky diners, and other tourist-oriented businesses that charge premium prices for subpar experiences. In addition, the area surrounding Niagara Falls has very few parks or natural attractions, making it feel more like a crowded market than a tranquil vacation destination."
Hoffman says travelers "should steer clear" of the falls and spend their vacation time at another naturally beautiful destination. If your budget allows, consider a visit to the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone National Park, which "offer a variety of outdoor activities and breathtaking views without much commercialization," Hoffman says.
Fisherman's Wharf – San Francisco
Yet another notorious tourist trap is in San Francisco. According to 2023 data from vacation home rental website Casago, Fisherman's Wharf is actually the biggest tourist trap in all of the U.S.—and the world. The site is mentioned 1,049 times as a "tourist trap" in TripAdvisor reviews, which is more than any other location across the globe.
"Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco is overrated—and tends to be overcrowded, overpriced, and touristy," Peter Hoopis, owner and CEO of Peter Hoopis Ventures, tells Best Life. "It has kitschy attractions like the [Madame Tussauds] wax museum and Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum that are not particularly authentic to San Francisco. There are also many pushy vendors, and many of the seafood restaurants are, sadly, subpar."
When traveling to San Francisco, Hoopis recommends heading to the Ferry Building Marketplace on the Embarcadero waterfront.
"This beautiful building houses a bustling marketplace," he says. "While it may have some touristy aspects, such as souvenir shops and higher-priced food options, it also offers a wide variety of high-quality, artisanal foods and products. It's a vibrant and important part of San Francisco's culture and history."
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Museums on the National Mall – Washington, D.C.
When visiting our nation's capital, chances are you want to see all of the "big hitters," including the monuments and museums along the National Mall. But according to Taylor Beal, owner and author of the travel blog Traverse With Taylor, your time is better spent elsewhere.
"The museums on the mall in Washington, D.C. are some of the biggest tourist traps ever," she tells Best Life. "People flock here because it's the nation's capital, and, well, because they're free. Ask anyone who is headed to DC, and they'll tell you [to visit] the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and the National Air and Space Museum! Sometimes, they'll add in the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. While these museums are great—well-researched, full of artifacts, incredibly renowned—they're also typical."
Rather than spending too much time at these sites, Beal recommends visiting other museums, including the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM). This might be a more emotional experience, but Beal stresses its importance.
"USHMM is a moving tribute to the victims of the Holocaust, and the powerful stories that the museum tells are not to be missed," she explains. "You'll find yourself standing in front of artifacts from Auschwitz, hearing oral testimonies, and, if you're lucky, you'll even have the chance to meet a Holocaust survivor in person—something that will soon be impossible due to the aging survivors."