Eight American Tourist Traps to Avoid. Or Not.


Photo by Moyan Brenn/Flickr

Defined by CNN as “overcrowded, over-hyped and, of course, overpriced,” tourist traps are wicked places that draw in unsuspecting visitors with bright lights, promises of cultural significance, or rare natural beauty.

Then they bleed your wallet dry through gift shops, themed restaurants, pricey photo opps, and anything else they can think of.

But despite this blatant exploitation, people continue to visit tourist traps – in fact, that’s how they keep their reputations!

Why? No one can say. Maybe they’re just too much fun to resist.

In any case, here are eight of the biggest tourist traps in the United States. Steer clear, or give into temptation. It’s all up to you.

South of the Border (South Carolina)


Photo by I threw a Guitar at Him/Flickr

You can’t make a list of prominent tourist traps without including South of the Border, a massive collection of themed gift shops and eateries located off I-95 in between the Carolinas. It’s most famous for its more than 200 billboards, which stretch from Florida all the way to Virginia that try to entice motorists.

South of the Border is the absolute epitome of a tourist trap. There’s nothing of substance here outside of some neon signs and branded merchandise. But people can’t seem to stay away!

Those billboards must be doing their jobs. Who says traditional advertising is dead?


The Mystery Spot (California)

The Mystery Spot is, according to the website, “a gravitational anomaly located in the redwoods outside of Santa Cruz, CA.” Visitors can supposedly observe and participate in the bending of gravity and other rules of physics inside this fun-house environment.

(Spoiler alert: it’s a gravity hill, or an optical illusion created by the slope of the Earth under the house. There are hundreds of places around the world just like it.)

What makes the Mystery Spot a tourist trap, you say? The gift shop, of course! After witnessing strange phenomena caused by an isolated interruption of gravity, you’ll be encouraged to pick up a Mystery Spot lanyard on your way out! That’s if you can fight your way through the hoards of eager (if disoriented) guests to get to the cash register.


Niagara Falls (New York)

Once one of North America’s most romantic getaways, Niagara Falls has come to embody the very spirit of “kitsch” – a word that describes things that are ironically awful or cheesy.

There’s no questioning the impressive beauty of the Falls themselves, with Horshoe Falls being the largest and most spectacular. It’s the cheap hotels, stale gift shops, and themed eateries – places that have come to replace the quaint bed and breakfasts that used to populate the Falls – that make Niagara Falls such a classic tourist trap.

But if you don’t mind lukewarm cafeteria food and creaky hotel beds, Niagara Falls is truly something to behold.


Times Square (New York)


Photo by Snorpey/ Flickr

If you asked a hundred people to name something, anything, you should visit in New York, most of them would answer Times Square. Located in Midtown Manhattan, New York’s most famous attraction is home to such wonders as a giant McDonalds sign, New Year’s Eve with Carson Daly, and Guy Fieri’s American Kitchen & Bar.

One of the key elements of a great tourist trap is a surging, overwhelming crowd. In this area, Times Square gets a near perfect score with more than 131 million people a year filtering in and out of its many retail shops and chain restaurants.

Times Square is known for its wildly colorful billboards and advertisements, but those hoping to find real New York culture here will surely be disappointed. A recent Google user even called Times Square “All flash and no substance.”

On the flip side of the coin, can you really visit New York without at least passing through Times Square? Maybe it’s just one of those experiences everyone needs to have.



Old Faithful (Wyoming)

Yet another magnificent wonder of nature turned into a marketing draw, Yellowstone National Park’s Old Faithful geyser certainly deserves to make this list.

Visitors note that the parking lot outside the geyser resembles a mall lot, with upwards of 1,000 people at a time attending each “showing”, or each eruption of the geyser, according to rough, but predictable intervals. And when you get that many people together to view one attraction, you can bet there’s going to be a gift shop, restaurant, and other merchandising.

But at least Old Faithful has natural beauty going for it. For that reason, if you’re headed to Yellowstone, you have to see Old Faithful. Tourist trap or not.


Graceland (Tennessee)


Photo by Joseph Novak/Flickr

Elvis fans are truly a rare breed. Their loyalty and devotion seemingly know no bounds. Which is why more than 600,000 of them make the journey to Memphis, Tennessee to see Elvis’ home every year.

A 90 minute tour of the King’s mansion will run you upwards of $30, after which you’re treated to an onslaught of Elvis gift shops, Elvis themed eateries, and throngs of Elvis diehards dressed up like the King himself.

We’ve heard the Jungle room and its green shag carpet are a sight to behold, but we have to wonder if fighting the crowds is worth it to anyone other than the most devoted Elvis fans.

Thank ya very much.


Statue of Liberty (New York)



Photo by Sue Waters/Flickr

This might sound un-American, but hear us out.

The Statue of Liberty is one of our most valued national treasures. It’s a beautiful work of art, a shining beacon of American values, and one of the most recognizable landmarks in the entire world.

It’s also a massive tourist trap.

It may only cost about $20 to get a ferry over to Liberty Island, but the latest reviews warn that if you don’t book six to nine months out, you won’t be able to get all the way up inside the crown of the statue. The crowds here are massive (for good reason, but still).

Also found on Liberty Island? A themed restaurant and gift shop.

We’re just sayin’.


Las Vegas (Nevada)

Can an entire city qualify as a tourist trap? If you’re talking about Las Vegas, the answer is yes.

Vegas checks all of the standard tourist trap boxes. Overabundance of neon? Check. Outrageously priced food and entertainment? Check. Massive herds of street performers and hustlers trying to grind out a living by entertaining or harassing tourists? Double check.

But Vegas is a one-of-a-kind experience. It’s truly the city that never sleeps, where visitors can drink, gamble, eat, and catch a show at any hour of the night.

The only thing bigger than the lights of Las Vegas is the dent it’ll put in your wallet.


What Did We Miss?

What are some other major tourist traps across the United States? If you’re having trouble thinking of some, remember to look for big crowds and gift shops!