America the beautiful. There’s so much to see and do all over the United States that Americans should never get bored. Our country has everything to offer, from mountains to deserts to the most varied coastlines anyone could ask for. Even our urban and suburban areas have untold options for entertainment and edification.
With that said, we have plenty of tourist traps and places that, despite millions of visitors and countless devotees, are overrated. As people cross off “bucket lists” – how I loathe that term – they wind up visiting places that are actually clichés while missing out on some real gems not far from the overrated spots.
Here are ten of American’s most overrated tourist destinations. With each entry, I try to present some alternatives, often with options for experiencing local culture and flavor. I realize that this list may step on some toes, but I’m calling it like I see it.
10. The French Quarter (New Orleans, La.)
New Orleans is something every American should experience. The food, the culture, and the beauty of the city are unique. The French Quarter is pretty much what everyone thinks of when they picture New Orleans, and while it’s an iconic part of town, it’s terribly overrated.
Imagine an area of town crawling with drunken partiers all hours of the night. No, it’s not the fraternity area of a Southern college on game day; it’s the overdone attempt to recreate Mardi Gras every week of the year. The French Quarter – especially its epicenter at Bourbon Street – isn’t worth putting up with the revelers and drunks.
What to see instead: If you’re in Louisiana, get out of the city and experience Cajun and Creole cultures and cuisine in smaller towns and local establishments. There’s so much to see and do in that beautiful area of the country, so get out and explore!
9. Everglades National Park (South Florida)
Only Yellowstone National Park is larger than the Everglades. And yet, most any of the national parks have more to offer than the Everglades. The Everglades National Park is a large swamp with not much to see. Tourists can drive 40 miles through the park and maybe occasionally see an alligator or other wildlife. Get out of the car and you’ll contend with mosquitoes – tons and tons of mosquitoes.
Ok, so there’s something nice about knowing that your admission fee to the park goes toward helping conserve the delicate swampland of Florida. But that’s not enough to make slogging through said swamp worthwhile – especially in a state like Florida with so much other natural beauty and unique culture.
What to see instead: South Florida has so much to offer. Naples. Sanibel Island. The Keys. Countless islands, parks, and lighthouses. You can see so much beauty in South Florida without driving through miles and miles of swampland.
8. The Alamo (San Antonio, Texas)
“Remember the Alamo!” It’s the historic battle cry in San Antonio, and while the historical account is fascinating, the building itself isn’t so much. The Alamo sits smack in the middle of downtown San Antonio, a sore thumb amidst modern urban sprawl. It’s actually a small facility with surprisingly little to see. The tours are perfunctory and don’t allow visitors to linger much in one area. You’re just as well off to drive by it just to say you’ve seen it.
Besides, they don’t make tour guides like Tina anymore. Oh, and there’s no basement there either.
What to see instead: Head up to the River Walk for beautiful views and amazing food. The San Antonio Missions Historical Park and other missions and cathedrals will let you in on the stories of the lesser-known Spanish missions as well.
7. Statue of Liberty (New York City)
Yes, the Statue of Liberty is a beautiful icon of New York Harbor. Yes, it’s an inspiring symbol of freedom for those who wish to call the United States home. Yes, it’s worth seeing – but from a distance.
Don’t waste your time taking the ferry to the Statue of Liberty or climbing it. The view from the statue isn’t much to write home about. The tour of Ellis Island, which you access by the same ferry, is only mildly interesting, so if you’re interested in that part of history, you might enjoy it. But in the grand scheme of things, you can see the Statue of Liberty in so many better ways.
What to see instead: Take a harbor cruise for nice views of Lady Liberty, especially after dark. A walk across the Brooklyn Bridge offers a free chance to see the statue and the rest of the Manhattan skyline from an even better perspective.
6. Navy Pier (Chicago, Ill.)
At first glance, Navy Pier looks like a fun little place buzzing with kinetic energy. The Ferris wheel helps lend to the apparent excitement and charm. Navy Pier does provide some breathtaking views of Lake Michigan and the city that sits on its shore, but beyond that, there’s not much there.
Navy Pier is exciting if you want to shop and eat at tourist trap establishments and stores you can find most anywhere. But if you’re looking for something with more substance than a glorified mall, you’ll want to look elsewhere.
What to see instead: Chicago is an exciting and vibrant city with so much more to offer. Tons of museums – like the Museum of Broadcast Communications – along with parks and urban hiking trails give daring explorers plenty of options. The city’s magnificent architecture runs the gamut of building styles. Don’t forget Wrigley Field and Comiskey Park. And pizza? You’ve got to experience Chicago pizza, even if you prefer New York style pie.
5. Underground Atlanta (Atlanta, Ga.)
There was a time when Underground Atlanta was a happening place. Throughout the ‘70s, tourists and locals alike could find live music, trendy shops, and plenty to eat in a truly unique spot. Then crime took over, and the area became unsafe.
In the ‘80s, the city tried again to turn Underground Atlanta into a hotspot. As Atlanta geared up for the 1996 Olympic Games, Underground was a focal point for tourism marketing and attempts to draw visitors to the capital of the South. Unfortunately, history repeated itself, and Underground became unsafe again.
Part of the appeal of Underground Atlanta – that it is at least partially underground – is part of the problem. It’s a difficult area to police, and tenants have had a tough time staying in business there. Parts of it are currently under renovation, and a campaign is underway to “transform” Underground. History will probably repeat itself again. Take it from a local: avoid Underground Atlanta like the plague.
What to see instead: Sports fans will dig the College Football Hall of Fame, while history buffs will love the Margaret Mitchell House, the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park, and the area around Auburn Avenue that was so crucial to the civil rights movement. Or branch out of downtown and check out some of the areas where movies and television series have called metro Atlanta home.
4. Hollywood Walk of Fame (Hollywood, Calif.)
We’ve all seen the news stories where a celebrity reveals his or her star on the Walk of Fame in Hollywood. The fanfare suggests every bit of the tackiness and glamor that entertainment fans expect from Hollywood. (On the other side of the coin, we’ve seen the uglier side of fame when people vandalized Donald Trump’s star because he doesn’t fall in line with left-wing orthodoxy.)
What you don’t realize is that the Hollywood Walk of Fame isn’t in the best of areas. It’s a pretty generic shopping area with little to see other than the stars themselves, and who wants to look down all the time to see the only sites worth looking at?
The other thing that makes the Walk of Fame much less interesting is the fact that celebrities have to pay for their own star — $40,000 these days, as a matter of fact. It makes the Walk of Fame look like more of a marketing ploy than a genuine honor.
What to see instead: If you’re visiting Hollywood, check out the more fascinating sites that don’t require you to look down and miss everything else. Tours of celebrity homes are a dime a dozen, while studio tours are more fun. Or check out the massive concrete block houses that Frank Lloyd Wright designed and built.
3. Empire State Building (New York City)
One of the most famous buildings anywhere, the Empire State Building has a romantic attachment for so many people thanks to its appearances in movies and countless postcard shots. And it’s a beautiful architectural specimen to be sure, but the problem with the Empire State Building is its observation deck.
If you take the elevator up to the deck at the Empire State Building, you’ll find yourself jostling for a viewing spot with tons of other tourists, and the view isn’t that great because of the bars on the windows. Besides, what good is a view of the New York City skyline if you can’t catch a glimpse of the Empire State Building in it?
What to see instead: For a truly breathtaking experience that includes an observation deck, check out Rockefeller Center. There’s so much more to do there, and the complex has a larger deck with beautiful views that actually include the Empire State Building!
2. Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum (Cleveland, Ohio)
The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum sounds totally appealing, especially for fans of classic music. It’s a terrific concept: a tribute to the most lasting icons of rock music housed in an attractive complex on the shores of Lake Erie. Sure, the architecture looks totally cool, but an impressive façade does not equal an exciting tourist experience.
The problem lies in the execution of the museum. The exhibits are only marginally interesting, and the whole place smacks of a glorified gift shop – it really looks like the Hall of Fame is there mainly to sell stuff. It’s also worth noting that the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame closes at 5:00 p.m., the least rock & roll hours of any institution devoted to American music!
What to see instead: Cleveland has so much to offer. From the beautiful shores and islands of Lake Erie to funky neighborhoods like the Warehouse District and Little Italy, there’s plenty to see that doesn’t involve tourist traps. Besides, the NFL Hall of Fame is only an hour away if you want to see how a hall of fame is supposed to be done.
1. Mall of America (Minneapolis, Minn.)
Metropolitan Minneapolis boasts the nation’s largest mall, a concept that sounds exciting if this were 1989. But it’s not, and the Mall of America is just a big shopping area chock full of the same types of stores you’ll find in any number of shopping centers across the Western world.
Sure, the Mall of America includes an aquarium (big deal) and a huge Nickelodeon play area (yawn), but at its heart, it’s just a mall. Maybe one day, probably in the not-so-distant future, we’ll look at places like the Mall of America as a relic of time gone by – a tribute to the once-dominant shopping mall. But in the meantime, there’s nothing terribly exciting about the Mall of America, unless you want to go shopping and wind up with aching feet.
What to see instead: Minneapolis has any number of wonderful museums and parks – including the famous Sculpture Garden. Why not expose yourself to natural beauty and real culture instead of wasting time buying items that you can probably get at home without having to lug them on your journey back?
That’s the list! What overrated tourist spots do you think belong with these? Let us know in the comments below.