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5 Tourist traps to avoid in the U.S.

Posted by mandyf on January 16, 2012

Tourist traps are everywhere and sooner or later everyone finds them self caught in one. Sometimes this happens knowingly, in fact some people actually make it a point to visit some of the most notorious, but in most cases a visit to a tourist trap is a less than thrilling experience. In order to make the most of your time and money when traveling there are five tourist traps in the U.S. that many people get sucked into, but they really are not worth your time.

For starters, what is a tourist trap? There is no hard and fast definition as to what a tourist trap is, but the feeling after visiting one is generally one that elicits the response “That was it?” They really don’t tend to offer much in the way of a quality experience, in general they are a lot of hype and very little substance, the ultimate tools of marketing. They suck you in with the promise of something unique or spectacular and then suck your time and money out of you bit by bit. They are the places that locals fight off laughter or warn you against going to while on your travels, every seasoned travel has been through that. While many destinations in the U.S. could easily qualify as a tourist trap, there are five that in the minds of most people stand out above the others.

Las Vegas, Nevada has one of the all-time tourist traps, and it is none other than the Liberace Museum. Liberace is a name that continues to draw a crowd even after his death. The crowd he draws cannot compare to that Graceland, but it is a crowd none the less. The museum itself is hyped with billboards, flyers, websites, and pretty much every marketing technique possible, some year round, others to target specific dates. For $15 ($10 for seniors who seem to be the main victims) you can stop in and look at about twenty of his pianos, see some of his jewelry and costumes, and spend yourself silly buying Liberace memorabilia and severely inflated prices. On rare occasions there is a show, for an extra charge usually, but nothing else. When you walk out of the “museum” what you will remember more than anything is the store and the fact that for no really good reason you just dropped $15 per ticket to basically look at some old clothes, a few cars, and pianos. There are so many mirrors that it looks like you are seeing quite a few things, but the reality is you’ll see more of your own reflection than anything that makes this worth paying for what amounts to about twenty minutes of your time if you stretch it out.

Los Angeles has a tourist trap of its own as most big cities do, except in his case it is an entire street. To be exact it is a boulevard, Hollywood Boulevard. For years people have been dragging themselves up and down the boulevard expecting to see something great. They expect to see a film being shot, celebrities, great personalities, or anything that stands out as the highlight of their visit. What they find instead is not much of anything. Sure you can see Grauman’s Chinese Theater, and yes there are a couple of wax museums as well as a Ripley’s Museum, but aside from that there really isn’t anything there. You will see more staring at the sidewalk looking at the celebrity stars than anything else. You’ll be tempted to check out Hollywood and Vine, but you’re not going to see Pretty Woman, at best you’ll see overpriced woman (Or man) plying their trade. The seedier side of life is still present there. In short if you are drawn to hobos, prostitutes, and gift shops peddling overpriced trinkets this is your spot, otherwise it’s a tourist trap.

The next tourist trap is actually a three for one in a sense in that it is an actual theme park chain called Dinosaur World. Dinosaur world has locations in Kentucky, Texas, and Florida, each about the same thing. For $12.75 ($9.75 for kids under 12) you can basically stare at some statues of dinosaurs. There are no robotics to blow away, nor are there any great CGI tricks to make them come to life. They just stand still in place doing absolutely nothing. There are extra activities you can take part in to entertain the family, for an extra fee of course like the fossil dig which may return a sea urchin or a sharks tooth, but basically that is about it. You can’t even get a burger and fries as they have no food concessions. They will allow you to bring your own, and as one reviewer stated you can have a pizza delivered to you there, but that is a bout it. The gift shop is nothing more than “overpriced plastic crap and tee-shirts” as another reviewer shared, but in all honesty would anyone expect any different? The good thing about dinosaur world is that they do an excellent job of maintaining the restroom facilities. A clean bathroom may actually be the one thing you remember about a Dinosaur World visit aside from the fact they got you to actually pay to be there.

The Carnegie Deli in New York City used to be a great place to grab a sandwich, maybe see a celebrity, and in general it was just a very cool place to say you had been to. Nowadays a visit to the deli usually means fighting tons of other tourists to get an order in for something that is nowhere near the quality food their reputation was built on, and you can expect to overpay like you wouldn’t believe for the honor of eating a mediocre bite of of food from someplace that hasn’t served a great meal in years. If it is important to you to order a sandwich named after a celebrity from an deli that is more about good marketing than good food, then by all means throw your money at them. If not, there are plenty of other

New York City tourist traps that provide a slightly, although not great, bang for your buck and time.

Finally there is the more infamous than famous South of the Border. If you have ever traveled I-95 withing two hundred miles of the North and South Carolina border you have seen enough signs goading you to South of the Border to almost throw up in your mouth a little bit. There are actually over 100 signs trying to draw you in, and depending on the season and available ad space the number can jump by a third. Basically South of the Border (Known as SOB to locals) is a truck stop. You can buy gas, fireworks, beer, maybe get a bumper sticker to paste onto your car so you can tell the world you got sucked in. In all fairness however, SOB has turned into perhaps the elite tourist trap in the United States. Every year they add some weird twist or hook to get you and emptying your wallet.

SOB now has a wedding chapel called the Pleasure Dome, but why anyone would marry there is a bit of a mystery. They have added hotels, restaurants, truck layover areas, shower facilities for travelers, and as always the have cheap cigarettes. If you aren’t drawn in by getting married and maybe even taking your honeymoon at SOB, maybe a quick trip up Sombrero Tower some 200 feet in the air to look at….a forest…will entice you. It only costs a dollar and there is an elevator so why not part with another greenback? In general, if you don’t really need gas, or you cannot live without saying you’ve been there, just avoid it. Anything you may actually NEED you can buy along the way cheaper elsewhere.

While this is hardly a definitive list and there are plenty of other places that can easily slide onto the list of the biggest tourist traps in the U.S., these are some of the best known. Some may argue that “Carhenge” (A Stonehenge replica made of old cars), or Times Square belong here more, and perhaps they do, but for this examination they just missed it. When all is said and done there really is nothing wrong with going to a tourist trap so long as you know it in advance and think the cost is worth having a story about how big of a joke the tourist trap is.


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